After a decade of litigation, NOAA Fisheries and EPA will prepare a biological opinion on harm caused by Atlantic salmon net pens

From the Wild Fish Conservancy Press Release this morning. It’s unfortunate that those of us concerned about this issue needed to spend 10 years trying to force them to get to this simple issue. NOAA Fisheries have been one of the biggest boosters of net pen Atlantic salmon, never studying the wider effects of pens beyond a few hundred yards away from them. There has never been a wholistic approach to studying the effects of fish waste, food waste, chemicals added to the water, fish escapement, nor the issue that wild fish are attracted to the pens by food. What we learned from the net pen collapse last fall, was that the claims of the industry, repeated by spokesmen for Taylor Shellfish (who support net pens), that there was no way that Atlantic salmon would survive after escapement, were nothing but wishful thinking. Atlantic salmon from the pens were found far up the Skagit River basin and along the north outer shore of Vancouver Island. The misinformation campaigns of these industries that put profit ahead of environment are stunning in their audacity.


After a decade of litigation, NOAA Fisheries and EPA make the 11th hour decision to prepare a biological opinion on harm caused by Atlantic salmon net pens to ESA- listed salmon and steelhead.

The agencies have finally begun formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to evaluate the potential harm caused by Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound October 11th, 2018

Duvall, WA – On the eve of court proceedings over a legal battle Wild Fish Conservancy initiated in 2015, NOAA Fisheries and EPA have entered into formal consultation under the Endangered Species Act, consultation that will lead to the issuance of a biological opinion.

Under the Endangered Species Act, a biological opinion evaluates the extent of harm a proposed action will have on threatened or endangered species and whether such harm could jeopardize the continued existence of the species. Biological opinions also include conditions for monitoring and reducing harmful impacts to protected species.

Considering the abundant scientific evidence that open-water Atlantic salmon aquaculture may harm threatened and endangered salmonid species, Wild Fish Conservancy first argued that formal consultation and a biological opinion was necessary back in 2008, when we argued against the agencies’ decision that Atlantic salmon net pens were ‘not likely to adversely affect’ threatened and endangered species. We won that case in 2010, with the court ruling that NOAA and EPA had failed to use the best available science when making their decision and must reconsider whether a biological opinion is necessary.

Less than one year later, after a brief consultation, NOAA and EPA again decided that a biological opinion was unnecessary. This decision was shortly followed by a large-scale disease outbreak in Atlantic salmon net pens off the coast in Bainbridge Island in 2012, which killed over 1 million pounds of farmed Atlantic salmon during a time when juvenile wild salmon were out-migrating through Puget Sound.

Wild Fish Conservancy again challenged the agencies’ decision to avoid a biological opinion in 2015, a case that prompted NOAA and EPA last week to announce their intention to re-initiate consultation and finally prepare a biological opinion. That decision came only after the Court soundly rejected the agencies’ efforts to dismiss the case and ruled that the duty under the Endangered Species Act to re-initiate consultation does apply to EPA’s underlying action.

Since the case was filed in 2015, we have learned far more about the potential for harm the Atlantic salmon net pen industry presents to wild salmon and steelhead. In 2017, a collapsed net pen off the coast of Cypress Island released over 260,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, nearly all of which are estimated to have been infected with Piscine Reovorius, a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus that may infect wild salmon. A study in 2018

demonstrated that PRV leads to debilitating disease in Chinook salmon, the primary food source of endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

This case comes at a time when key provisions of the Endangered Species Act are under threat in the United States Congress and underscores the monumental importance of the ESA, an act that has been critical in providing key protections to over one thousand threatened and endangered species across the country.

“While it shouldn’t have taken ten years of litigation for our agencies to realize the necessity of a biological opinion,” said Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy’s Executive Director, “I am glad to hear they have decided to change course, and I am hopeful that a biological opinion will lead to conditions and terms that will limit and monitor the harm caused by net pens to ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

“Taking the utmost precaution is necessary to avoid the extinction of imperiled Pacific salmon and steelhead species, especially when considering the dire plight of Chinook salmon and the Southern Resident killer whales that are starving due to their struggling population.”

Contact

Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director, 425.788.1167/kurt@wildfishconservancy.org

About

Wild Fish Conservancy is a science & research conservation non-profit dedicated to the preservation, protection & restoration of wild fish ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. We are headquartered in Duvall, WA. Learn more at wildfishconservancy.org

Wild Fish Conservancy is represented in this matter by the law firm of Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, with offices in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.

Harbour seals are easy scapegoats in Chinook salmon decline – Vancouver Sun

Once again, the knee jerk reaction to ‘solving’ a problem is balanced by the scientists who actually study the problem. There has been a call for culling harbour seals, with ‘everyone’ knowing that they see a lot of them and they are eating a lot of salmon, apparently. Well, here’s the alternative point of view, rather than fake news.

It’s partly out of concern for the latter sparking recent calls for a cull of harbour seals, with those in favour citing a recent explosion in the seal population as principal cause of the decline of Chinook salmon. “Explosion?” Yikes. This is serious, and we had better respond. But, hold on a minute — there has been virtually no change in seal numbers in B.C. in more than 20 years. But for the whales — which face additional threats that include vessel strikes, pollution, underwater noise, and a shrinking gene pool — the problem is, as usual, us humans.

Dr. Peter Ross is the vice-president of research, and Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard is director of the Cetacean Research Program at Ocean Wise.

Read the whole story at:

Opinion: Harbour seals are easy scapegoats in Chinook salmon decline

Support your local newspaper, no matter how lame it is. Blogs don’t replace reporters who are paid a living wage to take the time to get the news and boil it down to something we can understand. Fight those that constantly refer to the press as the ‘enemy of the people’ and ‘fake news’. Those voices are demagogues who are only working to promote their own point of view to their own profit.

 

Tribal elders see dreams coming true in canoe journey as pullers reach Port Townsend – PDN

This incredible sight has been going on for a number of years now. It is the Tribe’s way of helping their teens to reignite their heritage and find a future without drugs and alcohol, the scurge that our ancestors brought to their world. For thousands of years these people lived in harmony with this land. It is an honor to have the canoe journey back again in Port Townsend. We need their voices now more than ever.

http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/tribal-elders-see-dreams-coming-true-in-canoe-journey-as-pullers-reach-port-townsend/

State denies request to move juvenile Atlantic salmon to Bainbridge net pens -AP & various

Well, this is likely the end of the line for Atlantic net pen raised salmon in Puget Sound. Good news for wild fish and the benthic layer in those locations.

Washington state fish managers have denied a request by Cooke Aquaculture to move thousands of juvenile Atlantic salmon from its hatchery to marine net pens in Kitsap County. The Department of Fish and Wildlife said Thursday it rejected the company’s application because the move would increase the risk of fish disease transmission both within and outside the pens…. Tests taken from samples of fish that would have been transported showed they had a form of the fish virus PRV that has not been known to occur in Washington waters. WDFW fish health manager Ken Warheit called it an “exotic strain” that differs from the variety that had been present in the eastern Pacific Ocean, creating an “unknown risk that made it unacceptable.” (Associated Press)

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.
Sincerely,
Laura Hendricks
 The email conversation of 2002.
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:
Seattle Journal of Environmental Law:Vol 4. Issue 1 Article 6

Kelp continues steady decline in Puget Sound – Salish Sea Currents

We are in a race against the loss of the Sound ecosystem. Another report from the front.

Ever alert to predators, young rockfish swim warily among the stems of bull kelp that reach up from the bottom of Puget Sound. Within the kelp forest lurk many larger fish, such as lingcod, which would quickly gobble up the 2-inch juveniles if given a chance. Kelp forests, which are becoming rare in Central and South Puget Sound, are not necessarily secure refuges for the tiny rockfish, which feature spiny dorsal fins like their much larger parents. Still, the vegetation provides a safer cover than open water. It also offers the growing fish a rich smorgasbord of food — phytoplankton, krill, copepods, invertebrate eggs and other tiny bite-sized creatures. Chris Dunagan reports. (Salish Sea Currents)

Kelp continues steady decline in Puget Sound

 

Conservation Groups Sue State Over Permitting Exemptions

This is a huge lawsuit, as it challenges  the State exemptions for aquaculture from it’s Hydraulic Permit Applications, while forcing anyone seeking to redo a family dock to engage an engineering firm to file an HPA. I’m withholding comment on this lawsuit at present because as a board member of Sound Action, the NGO that independently reviews all HPAs and challenges ones that are environmentally unsound, we have a position on this lawsuit that will come out in the next few days.  The State exemption is something that we have publicly commented against in the past, but for a variety of reasons have not brought suit to challenge it.
There is much more background to this lawsuit that appears in this announcement and it will be interesting to see whether they have a case and the money that is capable of withstanding the considerable challenge of the aquaculture industry, including it’s P.R. machine.
If you want to support the efforts of the only organization that oversees the Hydraulic Code Permits and has successfully challenged them, feel free to donate to Sound Action. Go to our website www.soundaction.org to learn about the work we have done keeping the damage to our nearshore to a minimum and ensuring that the permitting is done in accordance with State law.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–Case Number: 18-2-01972-34.
April 12, 2018
CONTACT:     Patrick Townsend (360) 359-4406
                     Laura Hendricks  (253) 509-4987
                     Kurt Beardslee    (425) 788-0125
CONSERVATION GROUPS SUE STATE TO DEMAND IT PROTECT COASTAL SHORELINES BY ENDING PERMITTING EXEMPTION FOR INDUSTRIAL SHELLFISH AQUACULTURE
Protect Zangle Cove, the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat and Wild Fish Conservancy filed suit today against the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”), demanding an end to the improper exemption of industrial shellfish aquaculture projects from state standards designed to protect fish and marine habitats.
Most construction projects in or near Washington waters must receive an Hydraulic Project Approval (“HPA”), which requires that they have safeguards in place to protect fish and their habitat. WDFW has exempted commercial aquaculture from this statutory requirement for many years, meaning aquaculture projects go forward without these crucial environmental safeguards.
The lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court contends this exemption has no legal basis and asks the court to direct WDFW to apply the HPA law consistently to shellfish aquaculture projects. The suit also asks the court to halt development of a geoduck farm planned for Zangle Cove, a near pristine estuary in South Puget Sound, until it receives an HPA permit.
“With threatened Southern Resident killer whales and endangered native salmon at extreme risk, our state agencies have failed to implement the environmental protections that are critical to the broad scale ecological recovery of Puget Sound,” says Patrick Townsend, president of Protect Zangle Cove. “The action we are taking today is one important step toward restoring sanity to the recovery process. We must protect the tidelands from further loss of ecological function or we will see the loss of iconic species so important to the people of Washington State.”
Laura Hendricks, director of the Coalition To Protect Puget Sound Habitat, emphasizes that the lawsuit only asks the state to apply the law consistently.
“There is a double standard that exempts commercial shellfish aquaculture from the state HPA permitting system, even though these operations pose a severe threat to our fragile coastal habitats,” Hendricks says. “A private citizen installing a small dock needs to get an HPA permit, but a commercial shellfish facility would not need an HPA permit before constructing a facility that disrupts miles of pristine shoreline, destroys natural vegetation and aquatic life, and inserts tons of harmful plastic tubing, netting, and rebar into the tidelands.”
Commercial shellfish aquaculture is in the midst of dramatic expansion in Washington. These factory-farm like facilities already take up as many as 50,000 shoreline acres, or as much as one-quarter of all Washington tidelands. Significant expansion is planned in the immediate future,  focusing largely on geoducks raised to sell in the Asian luxury market.
A single-acre geoduck operation usually includes around 44,000 PVC tubes, four- or six-inches in diameter, and approximately ten inches long. This amounts to approximately seven miles of PVC tubing per acre, weighing between 11 and 23 tons. Plastic nets are typically installed over the entire geoduck bed to keep out native wildlife that would normally feed and shelter there.
Kurt Beardslee, co-founder and Executive Director of the Wild Fish Conservancy, says: “There’s no way around it, it’s a scientific fact: the industrial shellfish aquaculture industry routinely damages vast amounts of habitat critical to federally protected species, including wild salmon and steelhead, with little or no agency oversight.”
Protect Zangle Cove, the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat and Wild Fish Conservancy are represented in the litigation by the law firm of Lane Powell P.C.
                                                           ###
To view the complaint filed today, visit:
For more information about the impact of commercial shellfish aquaculture, visit:
                                                About Zangle Cove
Protect Zangle Cove is a nonprofit organization consisting of citizens who reside on the shores of South Puget Sound. Our mission is to protect the tideland of Zangle Cove from industrial geoduck aquaculture, preserve the critical habitat of Puget Sound tidelands, support the protection and restoration of eelgrass on Puget Sound tidelands, educate citizens about nearshore habitat, inform government officials about the problems from industrial shellfish aquaculture, and encourage rulemaking to protect Puget Sound shorelines for the enjoyment of citizens and for native species that make their homes here.
                              About Coalitoin To Protect Puget Sound Habitat
The Coalition is an alliance of citizens, environmentalists, scientists and recreational users concerned about industrial aquaculture and its impacts on plants, animals, and ecological functions. Our mission is to voice citizen concerns about industrial aquaculture and its adverse impact on the health and quality of Puget Sound and coastal waters, to effect changes in policies and regulations, and to encourage enforcement to protect shoreline habitat.
                                            About Wild Fish Conservancy
The Conservancy is a membership-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and recovery of the Northwest’s native fish species and the ecosystems upon which those species depend.
Photo Courtesy of the Coalition To Protect Puget Sound Habitat
A typical commercial geoduck facility, which uses approximately seven miles of PVC tubing per acre, weighing between 11 and 23 tons.
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