Shellfish harvesting is one of the largest and longest running local industries.

Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray visited Mason County, specifically Taylor Shellfish’s Skookum Inlet shellfish farm, to discuss how their Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2012 would help preserve the industry for future generations.

Murray and Dicks introduced the bill in Congress and the Senate in June.

“Clean water is something that’s absolutely critical to this state’s future,” Murray said to a small group of members of the press and supporters of the bill Thursday.

The legislation is designed to create 126,554 acres of new wilderness in the Olympic National Forest, according to Murray’s office.

It also allows for an additional 5,346 acres of wilderness to be created by future elected officials and designates 19 rivers and seven tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Proponents of the bill say it will preserve and enhance existing recreational areas in the Olympic National Forest, protect drinking water and fisheries and encourages tourism.

“Protecting shellfish is a jobs issue in Washington State,” Dicks said.

He said preserving wilderness and rivers is expected to improve water quality in Puget Sound.

“It’s from the snowcaps to the whitecaps,” he said. “Hood Canal has been a special place for my family. We have challenges. One of the great challenges is preserving water quality.”

Dicks said the bill would address ocean acidification in Hood Canal and Puget Sound, a major concern of his. A decrease in the pH in waters of Puget Sound harms native species.

While he said the bill was popular, some members of Congress do not support it.

“There are people in Congress who are still in denial … that there is something called climate change and people have some responsibility for it,” he said. “I think we have really looked at these issues and tried to look at what people have said. This is very good legislation and it has broad support.”

The senator and representative spoke in front of the backdrop of the historic Skookum Inlet shellfish farm, owned by Taylor Shellfish.

Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor Shellfish, said the area has been cultivated for shellfish since the 1870s. Taylor has owned the land for 50 years.

Taylor CEO Bill Taylor gave his support for the Wild Olympics plan. He said that increased international demand for shellfish makes preserving the waters of the Puget Sound essential to his company.

“This helps ensure water quality in the Olympic region. I think it’s going to be a long-term insurance for our industry,” he said.

Dicks, who represents the 6th Congressional District, is not running for reelection this year. Bill Driscoll (R) and Derek Kilmer (D) will vie for the position in the general election.

Dicks said it would be up to Murray and other proponents of the bill to keep it moving forward.