Shellfish

Bellamy Pailthorp photo / KPLU News

Ocean health is at stake as Congress decides whether to confirm the next head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The nominee faced tough questions from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, about funding for research of and adaptation to ocean acidification.

zenobia_joy Photo / Flickr

Good news for those who love local oysters and clams: the state Department of Health says there’s been a steady improvement in water quality for nearly a decade, leading to fewer closures of shellfish beds in Puget Sound.

The key measure is of fecal coliform bacteria, which lives in human and animal waste. Runoff from farms and leaky sewage systems carries the bacteria and contaminates shellfish beds. People who eat the polluted shellfish can get sick.

This story has been updated to correct the dollar amount the state believes to have been poached.

Last summer, we brought you a story about gaps in the system that's supposed to keep Washington shellfish safe to eat. Now state lawmakers appear ready to get tougher with shellfish operators who violate food safety laws.