A small flotilla of boats bobbed in the calm waters of Pickering Passage Thursday morning, waiting to unload chunks of Styrofoam, tires, oyster bags and other marine debris that has washed ashore this winter on South Sound beaches.
They had just finished scouring more than 100 miles of beach as part of the twice-annual South Sound beach cleanup sponsored by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.
The anti-litter campaign started seven years ago as a good faith effort by commercial shellfish growers to collect debris that washes away from their tidal shellfish farms, usually during stormy weather.
Past tallies reveal that more than 80 percent of the volume of debris collected each cleanup has not been from shellfish farms.
Never miss a local story.
“Whether we get aquaculture stuff or not, it’s still a good idea,” said Taylor Shellfish Farms spokesman Bill Dewey.
The boats and their crews from 10 shellfish farms, the Squaxin Island Tribe, state Department of Natural Resources, Manke Lumber Co., Pacific Shellfish Institute and the Surf Riders Foundation, were assigned stretches of beaches on the inlets, islands and bays of Mason, Thurston and Pierce counties where commercial shellfish operations are concentrated.
More than 100 people participated, gathering around noon at the Arcadia Point boat launch to unload their bounty and share a hot meal and coffee.
Dale Hall, a Hammersley Inlet shellfish grower and “captain” of the Manke Lumber boat, estimated his load from beaches in his inlet was about 75 percent debris that had nothing to do with growing oysters, clams and geoducks.
The boat skippered by Brian Torian of Arcadia Point Seafood included several wire mesh bags used to grow oysters. They may have belonged to a commercial farm or a waterfront homeowner that grows shellfish for their own use, he said.
The oyster bags will be donated to the Henderson Inlet Community Shellfish Farm, said Linda Lentz an Eld Inlet shellfish grower.
Tony McDermott of Taylor Shellfish piloted a boat to beaches on Hammersley Inlet that turned out to be pretty clean. Three clam bags were all he found.
“You might get a prize for the smallest load,” Lentz quipped.
Beth Rossow, a waterfront resident near Aracadia Point for 33 years, said she appreciated the efforts of the crews.
“Some of this stuff is just too big for individual homeowners to pick up off the beach,” she said.
In the past six years, the beach cleanup crews have gathered nearly 720 cubic yards of debris, including more than 1,000 tires that were recycled with funding from the state Department of Ecology.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org