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A Unique and Interesting History

By  J Jones March 20, 2017

Many boaters do not know that Mats Mats Bay exists. Some may have read about it in a cruising guide, but many have sailed past it without noticing. That is not all bad in that it does not get overused with all the attendant problems. Virtually no one knows one of its truly unique aspects... The whole Bay is privately owned by the surrounding waterfront property owners, including the seabed itself. There are only two or
three places on Puget Sound with a similar situation. How did this come to be?

Early 1900's, the State of Washington identified a few areas that they thought might be suitable for the commercial cultivation of oysters and Mats Mats Bay was one of those. The State then proceeded to lease the tidelands and seabed initially to one large property owner with a condition that it be used for that purpose. This lease right was revocable back to the State if it was not utilized for that purpose. The property owner also had to pay taxes on the Bay property.

Over the years, properties were divided and sold around the Bay, and the Bay itself was divided into wedges each of which were attached to its adjacent waterfront upland property. 

Initially, some cultivation of oysters was no doubt started. But over the years, this did not prove feasible. Now, there is only cultivation for personal use along with natural propagation. 

Sometime shortly after the year 2000, there was a court case dealing with the State's right to revoke such leases. The Court decided that the State could not unilaterally revoke such rights. Rather than appeal that ruling, the State relinquished those lands to the current and future property owners around the Bay. An appeal would have had to include compensation to property owners who collectively had been paying taxes for over 100 years, as well as expensive, multiple lawsuits.

As a result, DNR now looks to the property owners to manage issues regarding the Bay. We have established the Mats Mats Bay Waterfront Property Owners Association (MMBWPOA) to do just that.

Vision: As one member says, "Mats Mats Bay is our own little piece of paradise." Some of what we love about it is the boats. There are the 'regulars', those boats that are always there and that give it such a picturesque atmosphere... And the cruisers, who add to our curiosity and imaginations. We love to paddle out to greet the cruisers and hear their stories, as well as meet some of the regulars working on their boats. We like to see the herring boats go out to do their fishing. Part of the Mats Mats appeal is that there is always something interesting going on. And, everyone around the bay wants to see it maintained and healthy.

The idea of a Mats Mats Bay Owners Association is a good one. It will allow us to cooperatively establish some Bay 'etiquette', share in common expenses, if any, as well as serve a social function for those who desire it. We can certainly see yearly MMBOA BBQs in the future!

We are currently talking about establishing guidelines for bay etiquette. These guidelines should be flexible. We don't want to be put in the position of having to meet, interrogate and educate every visitor to the bay. We also don't want excessive enforcement to change the character of the bay. Many of the regulars the we see in the bay could disappear if such was the case. We wouldn't like to see that if they weren't replaced. But we do reserve the right to evict any undesirable trespasser.

We would like to actually encourage cruising visitation. Cruisers seem to be relatively few and far between. Whether this is due to the current density of regulars or limited access at low water, we aren't sure. But we don't want to see boats disappear from the bay.

 Above all, we want to protect the natural health and ecosystems of the Bay. Pollution will not be tolerated. High risk behaviors such as derelict boats and chronic absentee boat owners are similarly discouraged. It should be noted that the Bay has a soft bottom and boats have been known to drag in high winds.

The bay has been managing itself for a long time, and with a few exceptions, has done a good job. However, it can use our collective help from time to time.