Damning emails surface showing state concerns over aquaculture methods
Laura Hendricks has been working against geoduck farming aquaculture for over a decade. She has often been portrayed quite negatively by the shellfish industry, as they routinely attempt to label her as a ‘radical environmentalist’. This reporter has heard her called that by representatives of the shellfish industry public relations team. Her tactics have often been at odds with other environmental organizations. Recently, she requested through a public records request emails between Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and the Pacific Coast Shellfish Industry, a lobbying organization for the shellfish industry.
The latest document that she has surfaced shows a picture of industry attempting to influence (and weaken) any attempt at state regulation over it’s use of state tidelands. In the last decade, in an effort to head off attempts to provide greater state regulations over their conversion of thousands of acres of tidelands into valuable geoduck farms, (which sells virtually all their product to China), the aquaculture industry has put together a public relations and lobbying machine that has worked to keep any regulation that may thwart more conversion of nearshore into production from reaching law. At the time of the email, 2002, the industry was putting together a self regulation effort, to forestall any attempts by environmentalists to get the State of Washington to better regulate their industry.
The Washington Shellfish Initiative, which has been implemented by Governor Inslee, primarily works to enhance and expand shellfish harvest in Puget Sound. The issues raised in this newly found email, appear to never have made it into any working framework for regulation of the industry. The question it raises, is “Why weren’t they?”
The document, by Gail Kreitman, who was the regulatory services manager for the habitat program of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife ends with a with a damning list of negative consequences that the aquaculture industry causes, or could cause, to shorelines.
The State and Tribes are struggling to save Orca and restore native salmon, forage fish and herring populations. At the same time, the State is allowing conversion of hundreds and hundreds of acres of nearshore into farms for geoduck, along with the attentive shore based work . We in the environmental community have fought for less farms and more protections for the shore and shoreline for the last few decades. We have asked for some basic protections to the habitat.
That a home owner must produce a detailed state Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) to describe possible negative effects of something as simple as a dock remodel, yet the aquaculture industry does not have to detail destruction or mitigation of hundreds of acres of geoduck farm conversion of the same habitat, is an issue that must be addressed if we have any hope of restoring species. The industry claims that science has shown that the bottom (known as the benthic layer) will recover when the farms are removed. It is a well known fact that once a farm is installed, there is no ‘return to natural processes’ as the farm is in place essentially forever.
Kathy Fletcher and People for Puget Sound was involved in efforts to bring greater scientific scrutiny to the aquaculture industry in the late part of the last decade. These efforts were to find or create the science to prove the case of aquaculture consequences. The industry fought them to a standstill, ending with a long term study of impacts of aquaculture on the nearshore that found issues with the benthic layer and requested further study, which was never funded. If People For Puget Sound would have had these emails, it may have significantly impacted the outcome of the debate back then, as the State knew that these impacts were possible yet did not choose to force the issue by requiring the same due diligence that individuals were required to do. That these documents by public officials were not allowed into the public debate of that era is a travesty and a testament to the power of the lobbying machine that the shellfish industry employs. What is also disheartening is that the State apparently refused to bring environmental organizations into this discussion, who where fighting for the protections that the State was unwilling to fight for themselves.
Ms Hendricks has joined a lawsuit seeking to force the state to issue HPA’s for aquaculture. The lawsuit seems to be a long shot that may do more harm than good for the cause if they lose. But the discussion in this email exchange is key to getting public officials off their positions about the lack of harm of aquaculture. The email definitively documents what a lead state habitat bureaucrat saw as the known dangers to the nearshore.
Very few are arguing against aquaculture in total. Most of us enjoy the fruits of their labor. But they, like all of us, need to operate within a framework of protections that ensure that they do as little harm as possible to the environment.
We can have both better protections and aquaculture. But the industry has been not fully truthful in it’s attempts to paint itself as a beneficial environmental industry. They have fought to be self regulated. It’s clear that they have not earned the right to do so, since they cannot be trusted to put in place stringent environmental protections. I highly recommend that you read the PDF document I attach from her below.
From Laura Hendricks:
Since many of you are still working on aquaculture regulations or permitting, we thought you would be interested in how the shellfish industry avoided state environmental regulation.
We found the attached records from a WDFW public records request that clearly document 28 pages of “Aquaculture-Fish Impacts” that WDFW compiled in 2000.
The 2002 letter from Gayle Kretiman is telling when she states: “Much of the Codes of Practice is written to convince the public that the shellfish industry is a good environmental steward and that further regulation is unnecessary…..”Though WDFW supports the intent of these statements, they are misleading given that the Code of Practice fails to inform the reader that the operations of the commercial shellfish industry in Washington State are currently unregulated at the state level. To date, the Washington Department of Agriculture has failed to develop or adopt rules that address the risks and impacts to marine habitats and natural resources that can result from commercial shellfish operations.”
We can see why Mr. Dewey stated in his email that “So far, I am only mildly panicked.” It is clear that the shellfish lobbying stopped the state regulations in 2000 and instead introduced the self serving Environmental Codes of Practice (ECOP) that most counties/Shorelines Hearings Board used to guide their permitting in the past. It must also be noted that the Department of Agriculture never issued any aquaculture regulations and the new 2018 aquaculture office is there to streamline permitting–not to protect marine habitats and natural resources. It is a fact that the Shellfish Initiative which is only a lobbying effort called for by Taylor Shellfish and promoted by NOAA is now being used since the ECOP’s were no longer giving the industry cover from regulation.
Considering the massive lobbying efforts by the shellfish industry to avoid state regulation. it is even more important that our counties and the Army Corps protect our marine habitats when even WDFW lists 28 pages of “fish related impacts” as of May 17, 2000.
We must protect our marine habitats from industrial aquaculture if we have even a chance of saving Chinook salmon, Orca’s and other marine life. I have already sent this information to our Pierce County as they continue to work on their SMP update.
Additional readings on the subject. The Seattle Journal of Environmental Law published an article by Lindsay Ward, in May 2014. Called The Legal and Enviromental Implications of the Washington Shellfish Initiative: Is it Sustainable? This comprehensive overview of the legal framework which has been implemented since the emails of 2002 clearly shows how the state works together with the shellfish industry to promote shellfish farming over environmental protections, protections which were implemented to protect Hood Canal summer run Chum and Puget Sound Chinook salmon and it’s required habitat. The same salmon that Governor Inslee has recently signed an executive order and called a task force together to attempt to save.
From the Lindsay Ward document:
The economic importance of shellfish to Washington’s economy, both as a source of revenue and job creation, is evident. What is less clear, however, is the (Washingont Shellfish) Initiative’s ability to successfully carry out its objectives while following the legal mandates proscribed by Washington’s Shoreline Management Act (SMA), as well as other legal doctrines. While the Washington Shellfish Initiative bills itself as promoting a sustainable clean water industry, its directives fall far from the Initiative’s claim of enhancing and protecting this valuable resource in a sustainable manner. Where this endeavor may destroy our pristine coastal environments forever, an assessment of both legal mandates surrounding shellfish aquaculture as well as the environmental ramifications of improper shellfish aquaculture growth is necessary to ensure that Washington’s coastlines and encompassing habitat are protected from destruction.
Primarily, the environmental consequences of implementing the Initiative pose massive and irreparable consequences for the environment.”
Read the whole story on the history and current threats from the Washington Shellfish Initiative here: