Geoduck aquaculture: Where are we headed?


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Chris Fitzgerald, KP News

With the bi-partisan passage of SSHB 2220 at the recently ended legislative session (only one “nay” vote in combined House/Senate votes), the methods, locations, and potential environmental concerns surrounding geoduck aquaculture in the Puget Sound region have finally come under public scrutiny. SSHB 2220 requires identification of location/size of all existing sites, something previously unknown in some areas, notably Mason County, home of Taylor Shellfish Farms. It also sets forth specific guidelines for equipment identification, marine data collection for pollution studies (done in conjunction with the University of Washington Sea Grant Program), and has been included in the state budget for allocation of funds to carry out the full text of its mandate.

House of Representatives sponsor Rep. Pat Lantz, D-26th District, acknowledged this bill is “a first step in a long and complicated process” involving an industry that has enjoyed state-sanctioned privilege since before statehood.

“(This new law) supersedes DNR’s decision to lease 25 state acres per year for 10 years,” she says, referring to the new law’s downgrade in leasing potential to 15 state acres per year through 2014.

Lantz remains concerned about the potential industrialization of private tidelands. “We can regulate private landowners,” she says. “But we can’t tell them what to do.”

With the recent classification of the entire west side of the Key Peninsula, from Rocky Bay to Devil’s Head, by the state Department of Health as suitable for commercial geoduck aquaculture, private tideland owners may find themselves with both new opportunity and environmental dilemmas. At a recent geoduck forum at the Civic Center in Vaughn, an audience question was directed to Councilman Terry Lee. “Is there a way to protect the environment and also property rights?” Lee’s response drew the only rumble of disagreement from the audience that evening. His reply was, “I believe you can (protect the environment) if you allow the activity to occur but mitigate the negative impacts.” This contentious issue continues to be debated between forces both pro and con, even while the new state regulations are being instituted.

At the county level, the Pierce County Council Community Development Committee met twice in May, heard yet more testimony both for and against aquaculture, and continued to progress toward passage of a new county ordinance (2007-34) regarding geoduck aquaculture regulation, and docks/piers. Proposed county regulations place even greater restrictions on currently-used geoduck farming methods than those imposed by the new state statute. The difference between the two regulations (state and county) is that any stakeholder — environmental group, shellfish industry, or Pierce County agency — can seek to delay implementation of the county ordinance through a variety of legal maneuvers, progressing up to the state shorelines regulatory body, thereby preventing the implementation of regulation at the county level. The likelihood of this occurring is great, as evidenced by legal complaints filed by both the county and the shellfish industry after receipt of Pierce County Deputy Hearing Examiner Terrance McCarthy’s formal recommendations regarding two Key Peninsula shellfish applications last year — which, as a result, remain pending.