Groups Challenge Army Corps of Engineers’ Refusal to Protect Puget Sound Shorelines

Corps’ Seattle District violates Clean Water Act, endangers Sound recovery
May 21, 2018

Seattle, WA —A lawsuit filed today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”) charges that the agency has refused to assert its Clean Water Act jurisdiction over most shoreline armoring in Puget Sound, and that endangered species and Sound shorelines are suffering the negative impacts of the Corps’ continued inaction.

Washington Environmental Council, Sound Action and Friends of the San Juans filed the suit after the Corps rejected a science-based government recommendation to correct its unlawful definition of the Seattle District Corps’ jurisdiction over shoreline armoring projects.

The coalition, represented by Earthjustice, is calling for federal oversight of shoreline armoring by raising what the Corps’ Seattle District considers the “high tide line” in order to better protect at-risk species and the shorelines themselves. The lawsuit also calls for a response to the groups’ 2015 petition asking for jurisdictional decisions on four shoreline armoring projects. The groups contend a strong federal policy to protect shorelines is critical to Puget Sound recovery.

“Shoreline armoring impairs the health of Puget Sound by damaging nearshore habitat important for forage fish that feed salmon,” said Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound director for Washington Environmental Council. “Currently, federal agencies don’t consider impacts from these structures, because their definition of what constitutes ‘the shoreline’ is too lax.”

Background

Armoring is the placement of hard structures — boulders, jetties, seawalls — on shorelines to help prevent erosion. The Corps is required by law to review proposed armoring projects up to the “high tide line,” which is generally the line at which land meets the water. But the Corps’ Seattle District uses a much lower tidal marker (known as the “mean higher high water” mark). As a result, the Seattle District does not review the majority of armoring projects in Puget Sound.

The Corps’ failure to assert jurisdiction means there has been no federal oversight of whether most armoring projects in the Sound meet the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act or any other federal requirement.

Further, the Corps recently rejected an interagency recommendation to use a higher tidal marker, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits arbitrary and capricious agency actions. In rejecting the recommendation, the Corps ignored sound science and the law.

“The Corps has known for years that its high tide line marker in Puget Sound is unlawfully low,” said Anna Sewell, Earthjustice attorney for the plaintiffs. “But the Corps put its head in the sand and rejected a science-based recommendation from three regional federal agencies — including the Seattle District Corps itself — to protect 8,600 acres of shoreline area by raising that marker.”

This troubling lack of federal support puts Puget Sound shorelines at risk of further deterioration, particularly when shoreline armoring is well documented to be one of the most significant risks to the Sound.

“Puget Sound is already on the brink of collapse due to continued habitat loss, and it’s critical that the laws put in place to protect nearshore ecosystems are both followed and enforced,” said Sound Action Executive Director Amy Carey. “Unless we act now, the forage fish, the salmon and the orcas that are so desperately struggling to survive will be lost forever. It’s up to all of us to ensure this doesn’t happen — and it starts by holding the permitting agencies accountable for doing their jobs.”

“By disavowing its statutory authority, the Corps has shielded harmful projects from a review of their impacts on critically endangered and culturally vital Northwest species,” added Kyle Loring, staff attorney, Friends of the San Juans. “Its high-tide interpretation also leaves state and local governments on their own, at a time when our publicly-funded agencies should be working together to do everything in their power to protect what remains of our region’s rich heritage.”

The Corps must respond to the lawsuit within 60 days.

Reporter Resource

Read the brief.

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)

Clallam County withdraws Finding of Non Significance for Dungeness Spit aquaculture project

As some of you may know, there has been a proposal to put a oyster farm with approx. 150,000 bags of oysters in an approx. 34 acre section of the nearshore inside Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is closed to virtually all human activity other than walking on the Spit. It is illegal to fly a kite there or throw a Frisbee.  The application for the farm to go in, drew widespread condemnation from a wide range of citizens, including a very detailed letter of concerns from the project leader of the Wildlife Refuge, which was detailed in an earlier article on this news site. https://olyopen.com/2018/04/10/concerns-raised-over-dungeness-spit-oyster-farm-application/

The project has raised questions from many about the appropriateness of allowing commercial aquaculture inside a national wildlife reserve. Similar issues are being raised across the country as Scott Pruitt, the head of the Department of Interior continues  “opening new mineral and oil and gas leasing opportunities in protected lands, easing drilling regulations, and rolling back habitat protections for endangered species” (National Geographic 2/2/2018) including Bears Ears National Monument, which includes sacred locations of a number of tribes.

The Clallam County Department of Community Development has announced the withdrawal of  the Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) issued on February 23, 2018 for the preparation of a site specific Environmental Assessment to address the impacts to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and other issues raised.

The Army Corps of Engineers also weighed in, stating that the project would be evaluated as a “Standard Individual Permit” so not eligible for a nationwide permit, which would have allowed the county to proceed on a DNS. The Corp stated that the impacts would be “more than minimal”.

A six month continuance was approved for the preparation of this document.

DCD will reopen the comment period when it is completed.

The full announcement is here:

20180511103337 Dungeness Spit

 

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

Atlantic salmon, caught in Skagit 8 months after escape from pen, had eaten a fish – Seattle Times

For years, we’ve heard the assumptions from NOAA scientists and the supporters of the Net Pen industry, claiming there was no way an escaped Atlantic salmon could survive and posed “no threat” to native salmon. I have heard the representative from Taylor Shellfish berate me in front of the Marine Resources Committee as well as attack Kurt Bearsley for this just two months ago in front of a room full of people at the Jamestown S’Klallam Red Cedar House in Blyn at a gathering of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Strait LIO meeting, over the “fact” that these Atlantic salmon “couldn’t survive”. Well, once again, their made up stories to support their own industry turned out to be just so much B.S. I’d expect aquaculture P.R. people to make up anything to further their own industry. But shame to the NOAA scientists who seemed to have been bought by the industry over the last three decades. Your names are on the ‘studies’ you claimed were scientific.

Upper Skagit tribal fishermen caught a lively Atlantic salmon more than 40 miles up the Skagit River Tuesday, eight months after Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon net pen collapsed at Cypress Island and sent more than 300,000 Atlantics into the home waters of Washington’s Pacific salmon. The Atlantic caught Tuesday had bones in its stomach, indicating it had eaten some kind of fish. Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times)
Atlantic salmon, caught in Skagit 8 months after escape from pen, had eaten a fish

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.

Concerns raised over Dungeness Spit oyster farm application

New concerns over the possible permitting of an oyster aquaculture farm within the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Refuge have been raised by the Department of the Interior, which manages the refuge. In a letter written to Steve Gray, the Clallam County Deputy Director and Planning Manager, Jennifer Brown-Scott, the Project Leader for the Department of the Interior,has raised significant questions about issues concerning the application.

Of concern to the Department are a number of issues relating to wildlife in the refuge.The applicants have asked for permission to place approx. 150,000 of “on bottom” oysters bags on the central west side of the bay, in approximately 34 acres of the tide flats 1141 acres of the the inner spit. This appears to be approx. 3.35% the inner bay area.  The applicants propose to raise non-native oysters. To be clear, a significant amount of cultivated oysters in the Salish Sea are non-native, so this is not a surprise.

The area in question was farmed prior to the 1950s, by a series of private owners. In 1953 the first lease was granted and non-native species were introduced. The Jamestown S’Klallam bought the oyster operations in 1990, and continued harvesting oysters until the State closed down the waters due to deteriorating water quality in the bay.  The Jamestown have continued leasing the site, 50 acres in size, where this current proposal is located. Since the middle of the last decade,efforts at improving the water quality of the bay continued, with the Jamestown in a lead role, helping to get scientific studies of the water flow and quality done on behalf of themselves and the county. Now the State has upgraded 688 acres to Approved status, allowing the Jamestown to apply for reopening the site to aquaculture. The presence of eelgrass beds in the location reduce it to 34 usable acres.

The Dungeness Bay Wildlife Refuge was created by Executive Order in 1915 by Woodrow Wilson. The order directs the area to be set aside as a “refuge, preserve and breeding ground for native birds and prohibits any disturbance of the birds within the reserve.” (Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe -Dungeness Bay Bathymetry, Circulation and Fecal Coliform Studies 2003)). The front page of the Refuge web site states: “Pets, bicycles, kite flying, Frisbees, ball-playing, camping, and fires are not permitted on the Refuge as they are a disturbance for the many migrating birds and other wildlife taking solitude on the Refuge.”

Within the area of the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Refuge are federally listed species that are protected or have environmental listings of concern. They include but aren’t limited to: Bull Trout, Marbled Murrelet, Puget Sound Chinook and Hood Canal Summer Chum. Also within the area is significant state listed wildlife habitat. Of somewhat lesser concern is the impact on the public to the scenic beauty of the wildlife preserve, which is one of the main reasons most visitors go to the area in the first place.

As stated by the Department of Interior letter, “The shores and tidelands in this area provide some of the most important wildlife habitat and supports the highest density of waterfowl and shorebirds within the refuge….These shorelines also support one of the largest Brandt haul out sites in the state of Washington….Shorebird densities are highest within the action area and the adjacent lagoon on Graveyard Spit.”

“Human-caused wildlife disturbance and habitat loss are two of the most pervasive threats to shorebird and waterfowl use of the Salish Sea….very little information is available on entrapment resulting from aquaculture structures.”

The letter also referenced that, “In 2016, a die-off of approximately 1000 Rhinoceros Auklets on Protection Island coincided with a significant reduction in the abundance of sand lance in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.” This reporter, who has been covering the Straits since 2007, was unaware of the scope of the die off in 2016 at Protection Island though a well publicized die off due to starvation was happening from Alaska to California. The extent of the local impact was not widely known and even a search of Google cannot find a specific reference to those numbers referenced in the letter.

While the specific habitat of the Dungeness Spit was not identified as the sole source of the lack of sand lance, the implication that this area is sand lance breeding habitat means that converting its use to aquaculture could continue the downward spiral of shorebirds and their food sources.

Herring also spawn at the west end of Dungeness Harbor and the Department of Interior raised questions about protecting Strait of Juan de Fuca herring, which have been designated  “critical” (as in critically low).  Sand Lance and Surf Smelt spawning grounds are also found in the area of the application. These species have been identified as “Washington Species of Greatest Conservation Need within the State Wildlife Action Plan (WDFW 2015). A worry related to this is that these spawning fish will be competing with the oysters for plankton. A failure to find enough food could lead to a significant reduction in the survival rates. There is no know mitigation for this, other than limiting the size and scope of the project.

Additionally, Interior pointed out that a 1996 scientific study found that some shorebirds significantly avoided areas used for aquaculture in a California bay.

The area just to the east of the proposed site is the location of the highest infestation of European Green Crabs in the Salish Sea. Another concern is that the proposed oyster bags may provide habitat for green crabs, allowing them to be moved to other areas outside the Spit the bags are transported. The State still does not have a Green Crab management plan.

This shoreline has been designated “Natural” in the Critical Areas Ordinance, as far back as 1976. That designation limits activities to those that preserve the national features unchanged. One would assume that the tidelands are also part of that designation.

An issue not addressed in the application was whether or not mechanized methods such as mechanical leveling and harrowing would be used. The letter said that this was of  great concern to the Dept of Interior and it could damage or kill benthic layer animals and vegetation. Placement of these 150,000 oyster bags may also change water flow and nearshore transport of sediment, with unknown consequences. It does not appear that the applicant is going to use these methods.

A further issue that has been the reason for the inner bay to be closed to aquaculture for over a decade is that of fecal coliform (FC) bacteria. While the applicants and the State have worked for decades to identify and remove sources of FC, and current counts allow for shellfish harvest to be done, it is important to note that the applicants themselves have noted in a 2003 report that “wild birds are the second most important source of FC on a year round basis. It is especially important in winter, when their load approaches 1/2 of the measured marine water input.” It would seem to the average person that putting aquaculture into a bird reserve is by it’s very nature going to create a tension between the animals that are present and creating the problem and the desire to harvest.

Studies done by the applicants in 2003 show also that tidal turnover is not ideal in the inner bay. Their finding that states that approximately 45% of the water that leaves the inner harbor returns to the inner harbor. The study states that this “slows the effective flushing of water from the Inner Bay and leads to water quality properties that differ greatly from those observed in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is unclear as to whether there has been a more recent study to understand if the effects of 15 years of work have improved on the findings of this earlier study.

The Salish Sea has been used for commercial aquaculture since the founding of the State, but in the last twenty years, with China becoming more middle class, along with a more sophisticated palate here in States, the demands for geoduck and other shellfish have exploded. Much of the lower reaches of the Sound have been converted into aquaculture.  The shoreline public has been upset with much of this conversion, with lawsuits against aquaculture being rather routine.  The State has never really asked the question of “how much is too much? When do we decide we have leased out enough shoreline to aquaculture?”

There is precedent for this question, in the permitting of bulkheads. At one point the State saw no problem with turning vast amounts of shoreline into concrete. As our understanding of the use of the shore for forage fish and beach creation, among other natural processes, we decided to limit bulkhead conversion and opt to look at natural ways to protect the shoreline from erosion. Some, such as a conversion to natural shoreline was done about 15 years ago just east of the mouth of the Dungeness River, in a subdivision along the shore.

NOAA and other government agencies have studied just enough of the issue to deem aquaculture ‘safe’ yet hold out no significant long term studies of the possible ill effects of the conversion to single species farming.  The NOAA science and subsequent scientific studies by Sea Grant, were of limited time frame and called for further study, which does not appear to have been done.  In fact, this very location offers a good example of the need to look at what the substrate is like, both at the site, which once was extensively farmed, and the surrounding bottom layers. It should be able to tell us how much recovery could be anticipated if the farm does go in and eventually is removed. It is interesting to note that eel grass is present around the site, but apparently not in the very location of the previous aquaculture operation.

It is certainly reasonable for the applicants to want to return to aquaculture in the Bay, however the scale is being significantly increased. Science has learned a lot about the environment since the time when the State allowed the use in this location. In many other locations we have decided that the trade off of commercial activity is outweighed by a newer appreciation of the value of the natural landscape for a variety of species.  It is up to all of us to question our elected officials and bureaucrats, not the applicants, as to why they believe that this is in all our best interests, when we so clearly have set this aside this location for wildlife protection and enhancement.

  • If you want to comment on this application, you have until April 27.
  • Responses to those comments must be in by May 18.
  • The last public hearing will be held June 7 at 1 PM.

Send comments to gballard@co.clallam.wa.us and be sure to ask for an email confirmation of having received your comment. If you don’t get one within 24 hours, call Greg Ballard at 360.565.2616 to ask if he received it.

A final note to consider is from the web site of the Dungeness National Refuge:

Recognizing the importance of the fertile habitats, President Woodrow Wilson established the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on January 20, 1915 as a refuge, preserve, and breeding ground for native birds. Today the graceful arch of Dungeness Spit continues to protect nutrient-rich tide-flats for migrating shorebirds in spring and fall; a quiet bay with calm waters for wintering waterfowl; an isolated beach for harbor seals and their pups; and abundant eelgrass beds for young salmon and steelhead nurseries.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public year-round. Hiking, wildlife viewing, and photography are popular activities on the Refuge. Some portions are closed seasonally or permanently to protect sensitive species. To ensure that wildlife continue to have a peaceful place to rest and feed, certain recreational activities such as swimming, jogging, and other beach activities are allowed only in selected areas during certain times of the year. Pets, bicycles, kite flying, Frisbees, ball-playing, camping, and fires are not permitted on the Refuge as they are a disturbance for the many migrating birds and other wildlife taking solitude on the Refuge.

 

 

 

 

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