March 28, 2011 | In: General News

What do you know about tideland ownership?

Because I have had two questions within the week about tidelands, I am re-publishing an post I did last year on the subject:

I spent time this weekend with two different clients who are looking at waterfront property. One is very savvy about tideland ownership and the other was not. Why do you care about owning the tidelands if you buy a piece of waterfront property (and for that matter, did you realize that you do not automatically buy the tidelands with each piece)? For many reasons….Do you want to cultivate oysters or clams for your personal use? Do you want the ability to lease out your tidelands for income? Do you simply want to have control over what happens on your beach? All are good reasons for wanting to own tidelands.

Many waterfront properties in Thurston and Mason counties do NOT include the tidelands. And that is OK if you know what you are buying. Typically you can still gather plenty of shellfish from your beach for your family and friends without disturbing the actual tidelands. You can even seed sometimes, though larger scale cultivation will not be possible. The most important things to know will be: Who does own the tidelands if not you (the state, a shellfish company, an individual?) and what are they doing with them. Some cultivations are uglier than others: oyster bags on the beach dont look great, and geoduck tubes are also unsightly. Both are temporary while the baby oysters or geoducks grow large enough to live on their own.

I have piles of information to share on this topic, links and publications as well. Tidelands were granted to Washington when we became a state in 1889. The state began selling off tidelands, a practice it continued until 1971 when the Legislature prohibited further sales. Private ownership of tidelands and shorelands is limited to those parcels which were sold by the state prior to 1971.

Today 60% of tidelands in Washington State are privately owned. Allegations of the mighty Taylor Shellfish infringing upon state-owned tidelands were brought to light this summer. As a result, it was announced that Washington State Department of Natural Resources would undertake to inventory all state-owned tidelands and identify possible trespass situations ( Will the result be that some folks who thought they owned their tidelands find out differently? Perhaps.

More interesting tideland bits:

1. American Indians are allowed to harvest from private tidelands (2nd class), a percentage of naturally occuring (not planted) shellfish.

2. The difference between 1st and 2nd class tidelands is not quality, it is distance to the city limits of an incorporated city.

3. Everyone has the right to use the surface of the waters. Period.

4. The state issues permits for buoys (sometimes) on state-owned tidelands as long as it does not interfere with boating traffic.

Any more information you would like, I can provide. I have spent a lot of time (and money!) learning about waterfront lands and the stewardship of them. See my link list to the right for more interesting links to waterfront resources.

9 Responses to What do you know about tideland ownership?


Tom ross

August 20th, 2011 at 10:44 pm

Regarding Whidbey Island. I have a beach house with tidelands. How far out can I control and restrict others from harvesting shellfish?


Missy Watts

August 22nd, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Do you know if you own all, or a portion of, your tidelands? This is information on your title report. If you own them all and they are second class, you most likely own to extreme low tide (or at least to mean low tide, depending upon when the tidelands were vested), which covers the lowest of tides that can occur at any season of the year.

So you own everything that is not submerged. You can control what goes on there, with the exception of disallowing Native Americans access. Native Americans are allowed to harvest 1/2 of shellfish in natural lying beds (not those that you have planted).. They are only allowed to access the tidelands by boat and they cannot trespass over your property or beach to reach them.

I hope that helps….


larry gorman

May 9th, 2012 at 10:49 am

Yesterday’s low tide was -3.3. I was digging goeducks in front of Big Beef creek near Seabeck. A property owner ordered me to leave saying these were his tide lands even though I was well below the usual low tide level. Can you help me define where public access is allowed in that area in low-low tides?
Thank you
Larry Gorman


DOmenic Verbano

January 21st, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Is there any way to find out if tidelands are public or private, and how can someone find out the extent of a privatly owned tideland? Thank You.


Kent Damron

January 29th, 2013 at 3:39 am

Hello Missy,

Do you happen to know any sources that one might be able to purchase tideland in Washington for aquaculture?

Thank you!


Amber Kiser

February 6th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

My neighbor wants to buy my tideland rights. I wonder why. How much aare they worth?


Missy Watts

February 11th, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Many people shop for tidelands thinking that they will have them permitted for shellfish production. I have many inquiries on my website about how to find tidelands and how to value and buy them. Please be very cautious….and give me a call if you’d like to chat about it.
Thanks for your inquiry….


Charlie Archer-Ayala

April 25th, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Hi Missy, Last September we purchased waterfront property in Hammersly Inlet. Our paperwork shows we have ownership of our tidelands, and a 1/6th percent ownership in a closely located sandbar. Our beach was apparently leased out for commercial clams and oysters, for many years. One of our neighbors last year had Native Americans come and claim rights to part of her clams. None of the other five parcels (including ours) had that happen. Last week the company she contracts with for oyster and clam production on her beach laid nets over 3/4 of her property, and said it was to designate it as commercial, and keep natives from coming and digging. We are not leasing ours currently, and have concerns that we may deal with a similar issue, even though we own (or so we think, per our contract) our beach. Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated. Also, if you know of a reputable company to lease to.


Darlene Wymond

May 2nd, 2013 at 12:09 pm

We own the 214 feet of the beach and the tidelands on our property and the following is how the tidelands are described in Whatcom County documents:
Thank you.

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