Coalition of groups sues Army Corp of Engineers over Aquaculture

The battle over the expansion of geoduck farm aquaculture in Puget Sound has just taken a huge step into open legal warfare. A group called the Coalition To Protect Puget Sound Habitat,  concerned over  the increase in geoduck farm permits without substantial review, have sued the US Army Corp of Engineers, who issue the shoreline aquaculture permits allowing this expansion. The coalition is asking to have the courts stop the Corp from issuing new permits, and suspending  some of the latest permits until further in-depth research is done into the cumulative effects of the permitting. Also a number of other requests were demanded by the suit. It states that the Corps has been in violation of the Clean Water Act by its actions.
The case is much more than a simple lawsuit. Due to the demand for geoduck in China, companies have been racing to convert geoduck friendly shorelines (not all shores in Puget Sound support geoduck) to aquaculture. This often takes prime shoreline that is used by the public  out of commission, essentially forever. If you owned a shoreline home in any of these areas, you would find you have suddenly got an industrial operation happening in your “backyard” at all hours of day and night, according to the tide tables. This can mean diesel generators going at any hour on the beaches below your house, especially during winter tides.
An example of the growth of shellfish farms in the South Sound is given in the lawsuit.
cumulative impacts of shellfish farms
While NOAA scientists claim that there is only ‘limited damage’ to these beaches, it is all based on the notion that the farm is ‘temporary’, which it is not. Studies have not shown any significant long term damage, if the farm would be terminated and the beach allowed to return to it’s natural state. Also studies have not taken into affect the cumulative action of converting many beaches along a given reach within a short time. The lawsuit is addressing this issue as a problem. 
However, short term use of the beaches is not happening. Once the beach is converted, it is then for all practical purposes an aquaculture farm until the market no longer supports its existence.
So the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat has announced a lawsuit, seeking to halt all permitting while the Corps undertakes a systematic look at the cumulative effects of all the farms.
While the press release states that this is a coalition, it is not clear who actually are members of the Coalition. Their web site and press release below mentions a list of organizations and individuals, with “Washington Sierra Club – Aquaculture” listed as perhaps the most prominent organization. This link ends in a dead link at the Tacoma Sierra Club site. In contacting the Washington Sierra Club about the lawsuit, a representative stated, “The Washington State Sierra Club is not a plaintiff in this case because we are not a member of the Coalition.”
There are no specific names listed as members, though the press release refers to “an alliance of citizens, scientists and conservation groups concerned about the pollution and adverse impacts (both short and long term) of the industrial scale aquaculture that is proliferating in Puget Sound. Local Chefs have also expressed concerns about the potential effects of these operations on the Sound.” There are no specific chefs, nor scientists named.
A key person in some of the organizations behind the lawsuit is Laura Hendricks. Laura has been at the center of this aquaculture controversy for over a decade. Hendricks has been an aggressive opponent of  both the aquaculture industry and other environmental organizations that don’t see eye to eye with her hardcore approach, which in the past has been looking to stop all geoduck farming in the South Sound.  Many of these other organizations recognize the need for support by the aquaculture industry for clean water efforts, as they are a powerful industry in the State that needs clean water to survive and thrive, and are often a major employer in small rural communities along the Sound. Many organizations have spent considerable efforts allying themselves with the industry for mutual goals, and industry leaders, such as Taylor Shellfish, have been very supportive of these joint efforts. This is not meant to say that the aquaculture industry  isn’t contributing to the controversy in their own way, as their representatives in groups such as the local Marine Resource Committees are often hard core industry promoters that attack any attempt to question any of their more controversial  issues. The industry also supports an aggressive lobbying effort in Olympia, that has had no real competitive organization to counter it’s demands over the last few years. Add to this the very effective public relations campaign that the industry uses which highlights the public’s love for shellfish.
When I  contacted, Ms. Hendricks she stated, ” …we challenged the Corps approval of and issuance of authorizations for many hundreds of individual projects.  We have also listed in the complaint (paragraph 64) five specific permits that were issued despite our detailed and well documented comments.  We are seeking to have the Corps suspend all the permits that will potentially cause harm to the Sound, until proper analysis is done.

We merely want the Corps to follow the law and not issue permits until the full and proper analysis already required by the environmental law has been done.  The Seafood industry should be supporting us, not fighting us.  Why?  Because if something is not done, the cumulative impacts of these projects will damage the Sound.  Then their industry will end up crashing, and they will not be able to sustain their businesses in the long term.  It will end up just like the other extractive industries have, over the years.  It will be a boom and bust, cut and run, situation sort of like what happened with the mining industry, the oil and gas industry, the timber industry, and the off shore fisheries industry.  The truth is simple, overharvest leads to population crash and environmental degradation.  In reality, rather than opposing us the current permit holders ought to be joining us and insisting that no more permits be issued until the studies on cumulative impacts are done.  That would give current permittees a competitive edge, and make their permits more valuable – look what it did to crab boat licenses in AK – and it would also help ensure that their projects don’t lead to destruction of the very resources that they rely upon for their livelihood.


No studies have ever looked at the cumulative impact of almost a 1,000 industrial scale projects in operation all at the same time.  Ask the SeaGrant people.  They have never been directed to do that kind of research.  They have only looked at short term impacts.  We are trying to prevent the death from a 1,000 cuts from happening to this Sound.  The law already requires the Corps to have conducted a cumulative impact analysis on the effects of all these permits.  Yet they have NEVER done one that takes into account the combined and synergistic impacts of the  huge number of permits they have already issued – to say nothing of the many more applications that are still pending.   

The entire geoduck controversy is compounded because the Tribes also lay claim to traditional  geoduck harvesting areas, and have treaty rights that allow them to grow and harvest the clams. It has been a significant source of income to some of the tribes. Taking care to work with the Tribes is a key element in balancing the environmental concerns and winning concessions for legislative efforts. No tribes are targeted in this suit, nor are they plaintiffs. However, it is unclear whether they would be affected by this suit if it is successful, as some tribes have recently expanded their geoduck farming activity, and I would assume that Army Corp of Engineers approvals were needed by them also. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s and the Skokomish  permits are called out as two of a number of permits that were pending in April of 2016 by the Corp , and as such, appears might be suspended or withheld, if the case is successful. There are also a number of Jefferson County farms that are on the list highlighted by the lawsuit. Look at the spreadsheet on page 60 of the document.
The full text of the lawsuit.
 The text of the lawsuit press release.

June 22, 2016

CONTACT: Laura Hendricks-Coalition (253) 509-4987
                 Karl Anuta-Attorney (503) 827-0320
                Thane Tienson-Attorney (503) 224-4100
The Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat announced that it has filed suit against the US Army Corps of Engineers, challenging the Seattle District of the Corps for its excessive issuance of shoreline aquaculture permits. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington, outlines how the Seattle District has issued almost 1,000 permit verifications/registrations for industrial-scale shellfish operations in Puget Sound over the last four years, under a Nationwide Clean Water Act Permit (#48) – but it claims that the Corps has never done a cumulative impact analysis of the effects of all those permits on the Sound, the Orcas and salmon of the Sound, and the many other resources.  Nor, claims the Coalition, has the Corps evaluated the cumulative impacts of these operations on the people who live and recreate in the Sound.
The Coalition is an alliance of citizens, scientists and conservation groups concerned about the pollution and adverse impacts (both short and long term) of the industrial scale aquaculture that is proliferating in Puget Sound. Local Chefs have also expressed concerns about the potential effects of these operations on the Sound.
“We tried repeatedly to get the Corps to stop issuing these permits, until an evaluation of the cumulative effects of all this nearshore habitat degradation and massive amount of PVC and High Density Polyethylene plastic pollution has been looked at.” said Laura Hendricks of the Coalition.
“We talked to them; we sent them many sets of detail written comments, along with more than 40 supporting studies. We even filed a Petition asking them to suspend the use of the permit here in Puget Sound, until the analysis of the cumulative effects were done. But they just kept issuing more registrations. They really left us no choice but to ask the federal courts to make them do their job and follow the law.” Hendricks lamented.
The suit alleges that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act, by not evaluating the cumulative impacts of issuance of so many registrations. “Our environmental laws require the Corps to fully evaluate the effects of these kinds of permits, and to not allow more than minimal harm.” said Curt Puddicombe of the Coalition.  “The Corps’ own records showed that in the first year of the current Nationwide permit, the Corps issued more than 800 registrations – over 3 times the number that it thought would be issued.  When that happened, the Corps had an obligation to step back and re-evaluate the cumulative effects. That is what any reasonable person would do, that is what the law requires, and that is certainly what we should expect a Federal agency charged by the law with protecting and restoring the waters of the Sound to do.” said Puddicombe.
“We recognize the shellfish production in Puget Sound should be an important component of a sustainable Northwest. But that production has to be done on a rational and sustainable scale.  A balanced approach is needed. Right now, the insane number of these registrations already issued, with another hundred applications already pending at the Corps, is converting Puget Sound into an industrial shellfish production site ignoring native aquatic species protection and restoration goals.” said Hendricks.
For more information, see attached lawsuit and our website at:
%d bloggers like this: