Opposition to geoduck applications grows


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Chris Fitzgerald, KP News

Local opposition resulting from two unrelated aquaculture events in 2006 has become a multitiered effort to force an industry, and state and county governments supporting it, to curtail new geoduck farms until objective scientifically-applied environmental standards can be applied.

In midsummer, the Mayo Cove Shoreline Association was formed to stop a permit Taylor Shellfish Farms had applied for on behalf of the Souers’ family on their private beach in Mayo Cove. That application is still pending. About this same time, Save Our Shoreline! was formed to oppose what they see as nontraditional geoduck farming practices as well as new farms. Save Our Shoreline! is primarily concerned with the shoreline environments of the Key Peninsula, according to President Laurie Brauneis. Her group and Tacoma Audubon are actively following pending permits. At a Pierce County hearing examiner’s request, they met with Taylor Shellfish Farms and negotiated an agreement acceptable to all three resolving differences of debris, equipment and visual impact issues on two geoduck applications in the Key Pen area.

Now closed, those permits, shellfish shoreline permit Nos. SD53-05 and SE 55-06, also provide a concession for eagle fledglings. Taylor Farms will remove large nets and replace them with individual nets and rubber bands over tubes during fledgling season (May through August) when they or the Department of Natural Resources observes juvenile eagles in the area, according to a TSF letter.

Also in late spring, Henderson Bay waterfront owner Laura Hendricks was confronted by several men on her private beach. They told her to leave, that she was interfering with preparations for a new geoduck operation on their leased land. The tidelands belong to Hendricks, and after a title company confirmed her deed, that issue was resolved, but not before she learned enough about the shellfish industry to become alarmed. Hendricks and other concerned citizens formed Henderson Bay Shoreline Association to oppose large-scale, nontraditional monoculture aquaculture without the benefit of science. They oppose the compromise agreement between Save Our Shorelines, Tacoma Audubon, and Taylor Shellfish.

In contrast to the other two groups, whose focus seeks to preserve the residential beaches of their immediate areas, Henderson Bay Shoreline Association has joined with other organizations in neighboring counties, long inundated with allegedly destructive nontraditional aquaculture practices. A documented slide show from this coalition was to be broadcast Nov. 27 to federal, state, county and local jurisdictions in all coastal states nationwide, including Alaska and Hawaii, scientific and aquaculture organizations in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and “anywhere else we can find to alert people to (these nontraditional destructive) aquaculture methods,” said Hendricks. “This is war.” (To view the slideshow, visit www.protectourshoreline.org/slideshow/CommercialShellfish20062.pdf.)

The Key Peninsula-Gig Harbor-Islands Watershed Council met Nov. 18 and noted the proliferation of “special interest” groups for Puget Sound marine environments and aquaculture (geoducks specifically). Lorin Reinelt, who resides on Vashon Island, is the watershed coordinator for Pierce County Water Programs. He doubted Vashon Island held much interest for shellfish companies. Two days later, the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council introduced a motion to its membership reading: “The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council urges the State of Washington to impose a complete moratorium on the expansion of such (aquaculture) operations along the shorelines and within the nearshore waters of Puget Sound.”

Other environmental organizations weigh in according to their county and/or community affiliations or mission statements. A summary of the September People for Puget Sound policy statement on intertidal farming reads: “A Sound-wide, independently prepared, comprehensive scientific study should be carried out… to fill significant information gaps. We support the precautionary principle… erring on the side of protection when information is uncertain or incomplete.”

Pacific Shellfish Institute in Olympia appears to be the shellfish industry’s “educational outreach” arm. “PSI is a nonprofit organization whose charge is to develop and disseminate scientific and technical information of value to the general public, shellfish farmers, and public officials related to environmental and health safety issues arising from shellfish aquaculture,” according to a PSI statement.

Citizens for a Healthy Bay Executive Director Dr. Stan Cummings says, “I think their science is pretty good, but the board will influence the group by determining what questions will be researched. Why do you think there is not one study on the impact of harvesting on habitat? The Pacific Shellfish Institute researches rearing techniques and the most efficient way to do it. The government promotes that just like they promote and subsidize the growing of corn and other farm products.”

Cummings notes the administrative board is made up of shellfish executives from Taylor Shellfish, Seattle Shellfish, and Nisbet Oyster Co., according to PSI’s Website.

Cummings is leaving Citizens for Healthy Bay, which focuses on Pierce County, to direct the Maritime Center in Port Townsend. He is also on the Port Townsend Marine Advisory Board. After leaving, Cummings will have a broader voice. “I intend to stay involved,” he said. “If not on a professional level, then as a volunteer. Once a Shoreline Development Permit is issued for a geoduck farm, it is virtually impossible to retract.  It can be modified but not eliminated. Once geoduck farms are allowed on a shoreline, they will be there forever — hence, it is a lot easier to prevent the problem now than to solve it later.”

At a Pierce County Council meeting in Gig Harbor on Nov. 8, initial interim geoduck farm regulations were presented by a Pierce County Planning and Land Services planner. After lengthy audience commentary, and discussion among the council, the regulations were sent back for minor revisions. None of the council members present (three live on saltwater), nor the planner who had participated in writing the regulations, have observed a geoduck operation from planting to harvest.

The state Department of Natural Resources owns thousands of tidebed acres, and derives its income from leasing the natural resources of the state: tidelands, mineral rights, forest land, natural gas, etc. Pierce County still has no regulations governing geoduck aquaculture in place. According to the county attorney, a moratorium on pending/new aquaculture permits is not possible at this time, due to a pending lawsuit over an aquaculture permit. Thousands of dollars have been spent on independent scientific investigation warning of oversaturated monoculture aquaculture crops resulting in marine failure. This information has been given to state agencies and local elected officials.

Undeterred by the public outcry for restraint, the first year of the Department of Natural Resources’ plan to lease 25 acres of tidelands per year for 10 years is underway. At least one of those leases is on the Key Peninsula, referred to by DNR land manager Jeff Schreck as “Herron Lake.” A Notice of Application dated Nov. 15, referring to a four-acre proposed geoduck aquaculture farm between 213th Avenue Court KPN and Russell Road KPS involves five parcels of land totaling 58.8 land acres and 2,100 linear feet of shoreline, and three landowners operating under the name Case Cove LLC. The application states, “Small geoducks would be planted on the tidelands (of the state-owned property) between the +2 and -3 tidal elevations. (They) would be protected from predators by PVC tubes, planted 3 to 4 to a tube spaced about one foot apart (18,424 tubes and 55,272 to 73,696 geoduck on four acres of tidelands)   …The project is in the Rural 10 zone designation; Natural Shoreline Environment.” The Notice from PALS continues with permits/reviews requested: “Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, and environmental review (SEPA)... No other county permits are necessary.”