DNR approves oyster farm in National Wildlife Refuge. Time to take action.

A Department of Natural Resources head who claims to be an environmentalist has “no knowledge” of her office letting commercial aquaculture invade a National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo of Dungeness Spit by Al Bergstein

Hilary Franz who is the head of the department of natural resources here in Washington state, approved putting a commercial shellfish aquaculture business inside the Dungeness Spit wildlife refuge just to the right in this photo. Up to 80,000 oyster bags covering the bottom. This refuge was created for diving birds and other wildlife that feed here. You and I can’t even fly a kite in there and haven’t been able to for 100 years.

As this author wrote back in 2018:

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 (it appears that 80,000 is the current number at most) of “on bottom” oyster bags on the central west side of the bay, in approximately 34 acres of the tide flats 1141 acres of 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 number of cultivated oysters in the Salish Sea are non-native, so this is not a surprise.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Noted bird biologist George Divoky commented:

When birds can’t find their food in an area they have used in the past they will not die at that location but fly elsewhere to find suitable habitat. Mortality could occur due to the costs of involved in seeking out that habitat. Certainly, the aquaculture being proposed would modify the habitat used by the birds and all of the far less visible components of the nearshore ecosystem. People tend to focus on birds being affected by anthropogenic changes to the marine environment – since they are visible and warm-blooded vertebrates – but this sort of exploitation of the marine environment by the growth economy would have ecosystem effects.

George Divoky

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, dating back to around the time of WWII. In many other locations we have decided that the tradeoff of commercial activity is outweighed by a newer appreciation of the value of the natural landscape for a variety of species.  One example of this is that we have ended other bad practices, such as gold mining in salmon streams, which was accomplished not that long ago.

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.

What the Dungeness Spit Wildlife Reserve will soon look like. As many as 80,000 of these bags will be located on the bottom.

The head of DNR, Commissioner Franz, when recently asked at a fundraiser for Jefferson County Democratic supporters about her department permitting this controversial site, said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” However, the Department approved it on her letterhead. She also had a direct report of hers send out a response letter to an environmentalist who was expressing their concern in August. The letter stated that “Commissioner Franz has asked that I respond to your concerns on her behalf.

As the old saying goes, “The buck stops here.” Commissioner Franz, in her second term, has run on being an environmental supporter if not an activist. Her campaign web site states” Hilary is on the front lines protecting our lands and waters and standing up for our communities.” A search of her campaign finance contributions showed both the Grantee, along with Pacific Seafood and Taylor Shellfish as donors. That in and of itself seems unseemly, if not worse, to be taking donations from the very people who you are regulating. But we all know it happens all the time. However, her ongoing blanket approvals of the ever-expanding shellfish industry now has apparently been a bit of environmental protection that she does not even pay attention to in her department.

What could she have done instead? Land swap. It’s being done by her department all over the State, where environmentally sensitive areas are being protected. That it wasn’t even a point of discussion is irresponsible.

In a letter to local activists, by Katrina Lassiter, the Interim Deputy Supervisor for Aquatic Resources it was stated that “These measures were created through collaboration and input from scientists, regulatory agencies, and the environmental community including the Audubon Society.”

On 8/20/21, Ms. Lassiter was asked to provide documentation for the statement: She has not responded. No environmental organization that was contacted offered any support for that statement.

Where were the local Audubon Society and Sierra Club members? They both apparently thought it was too controversial and choose to take no action. Why be a member of groups that were created to protect the environment and now can’t even take verbal stand against an action like this? Where is the Washington Environmental Council and their People For Puget Sound Campaigns? Silent. Remember this as you consider your end of the year donations.

Want to put your money where it works? Try starting with the Protect Our Peninsula’s Future, or the Olympic Forest Coalition, or Sea Shepard’s legal fund, or the Wild Fish Conservancy, or the Center for Environmental Law, or any of the other organizations who will sue for change, since we cannot rely on paper “environmentalists” to do the work we expect of them. They all seem to be beholden to the people continuing these policies of destruction. Everyone seems to want to restore destroyed environments but few want to stop them from being destroyed in the first place.

The call to action on your parts, if you choose to take one, is to call Commissioner Franz’ office and let them know your dissatisfaction with this decision. When she comes to your county looking for donations for her future political ambitions, tell her when she reverses this decision, you’ll consider funding her next campaign.

Her number is (360) 902-1000.

Norwegian company to build large, land-based salmon farm in Belfast Maine – Republican Journal

News from Maine, shows that fish farming corporations have finally come to grips with the fact that it’s net pen aquaculture doesn’t work, and are moving to build upland facilities that are financially viable. We hope that the Tribes here in Puget Sound, who are holding off support for banning net pens, can use this information to press State Senators Ranker and Van de Wege to add funding for a couple of experimental sites to prove the viability here in Puget Sound. The use of our waters for ‘feed lot’ kind of fish farming, pouring vast arrays of chemicals and fish food must end. We know that the Tribes ‘do the right thing’ as it comes to aquaculture and we hope that they can exert pressure to help them get from this dying technology of net pens, to a new way forward with upland containment.

A Norwegian company plans to build one of the world’s largest land-based salmon farms in Belfast, a project that would create 60 jobs within two years and up to 140 once it is completed, according to the company’s chief executive officer.

https://www.pressherald.com/2018/01/30/norwegian-company-to-build-large-land-based-salmon-farm-in-belfast/

The B.C. Scallop Farmer’s Acid Test – The Tyee

More on the emerging ocean acidification issues of aquaculture. 

Rob Saunders points a flashlight into the depths of an immense plastic tank at his hatchery, illuminating millions of scallop larvae as tiny as dust particles. “Think of these as canaries in a coal mine,” says the marine biologist turned embattled shellfish farming CEO. It is here at Island Scallops’ facility in Qualicum Beach, located just inland from British Columbia’s shellfish farming epicentre of Baynes Sound, that ocean acidification wreaked havoc. Beginning in 2011, the company’s scallop brood stock (adult shellfish bred over 25 years to be disease-resistant and exceptionally meaty), began to die. Christopher Pollon reports. (The Tyee)

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/11/19/climate-change-scallops_n_8597502.html

Gear, not geoducks, impacts ecosystem if farming increases – UW Today

Worth noting. The controversy over the conversion of natural shoreline to industrial aquaculture because of the current high prices being commanded in the Far East, is given new ammunition by a study done by the UW. This study should be read with the earlier 7 year study by Washington Sea Grant, that showed that impacts to the nearshore were reversible. That does not mean that they were non-existant. The biggest concern many people have is that entire bays are being converted to what amounts to a commercial farm, with near shore habitats being converted from natural to endless seas of tens of thousands of plastic pipe, which is used to protect the immature geoducks from predators. Harvests are done at low tide, meaning that in the winter, a homeowner may find themselves being kept awake by the compressors that are used to blow air to get to the ducks. With the value of the near shore properties and a lack of transparency by many real estate agents, it often comes as a very unpleasant surprise to new home owners. Once converted to aquaculture, the shorelines will never be allowed to return to a natural state, unless the market collapses permanently. And the state of Washington bureaucrats are really not interested in stopping this growth, being very much supportive of commercial aquaculture over natural shores. They believe that the carrying capacity of the Sound is able to handle it, but they have made these decisions with little science to back it in the past. With all these new studies, it’s now up to citizens in the various locales to raise these issues as policy decisions rather than trying to stop the new farms based on environmental concerns alone. Balancing this is the fact that the Tribes are entitled do aquaculture based on historical treaty rights, and aquaculture is one of the core protected activities of our state constitution, because the founding fathers recognized food production over all other concerns. As usual, there is no simple answer here.

The equipment used to farm geoducks, including PVC pipes and nets, might have a greater impact on the Puget Sound food web than the addition of the clams themselves. That’s one of the findings of the first major scientific study to examine the broad, long-term ecosystem effects of geoduck aquaculture in Puget Sound, published last week in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s Journal of Marine Science. Michelle Ma reports. (UW Today)

Though these results show that Puget Sound can generally support more geoduck aquaculture, if effectively managed, the model can’t drill down to specific inlets or bays and predict how organisms would react at a finer scale to increased farming, researchers said. Further studies are needed to determine the potential impact of more aquaculture activities on specific areas of the Sound, they added.

http://www.washington.edu/news/2015/10/21/gear-not-geoducks-impacts-ecosystem-if-farming-increases/

Kuterra aquaculture by ‘Namgis First Nation raises hope for wild salmon— and some hackles – National Observer

An update on the attempt to create a financially viable closed-containment aquaculture in BC. Ramifications for the Olympic Peninsula because of the push to bring open water net pens to the Straits and expand use in the Sound continues.

The ’Namgis First Nation, with advice and support from a large number of groups, including Tides Canada, conservation groups, and funding agencies, has launched Kuterra, a land-based, “closed-containment” aquaculture project that keeps their Atlantic salmon out of contact with the larger marine ecosystem.

http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/07/23/news/kuterra-aquaculture-%E2%80%98namgis-first-nation-raises-hope-wild-salmon%E2%80%94-and-some-hackles

Scientific Study Shows Effects of Geoduck Farming on Beaches

In 2007, the Washington Legislature, at the prompting of environmental organizations such as People For Puget Sound, and the shellfish industry, funded a long term study of the effects on geoduck aquaculture on beaches. This highly politicized issue, due to the expansion of  long term geoduck farming on ever increasing locations in the South Sound in particular, was viewed as the best way to resolve the bitter disputes over the industry. Some environmentalists were hoping this would be a ‘smoking gun’ of the issues that the industry is having, while the industry assumed it would vindicate them. It appears that the results do not do either, but do point to concerns that need to be researched over a much longer period in time, and about the trade offs in expanding this industry while attempting to save eelgrass beds for salmon habitat. This is the first real long term study ever attempted here in Puget Sound. Fifteen scientists took part in the study over a six year period.

The short conclusion to the data was that it appeared that there was no immediate concern that geoduck farming is distinctly doing long term negative affects on the ecosystem. Concerns were raised over possible effects that were longer than the scope of this project, and recommendations for further research on these were stated.

There were six priorities to investigate, as mandated by the Legislature:

1. the effects of structures commonly used in the aquaculture industry to protect juvenile geoducks from predation;

2. the effects of commercial harvesting of geoducks from intertidal geoduck beds, focusing on current prevalent harvesting techniques, including a review of the recovery rates for benthic communities after harvest;

3. the extent to which geoducks in standard aquaculture tracts alter the ecological characteristics of overlying waters while the tracts are submerged, including impacts on species diversity and the abundance of other organisms;

4. baseline information regarding naturally existing parasites and diseases in wild and cultured geoducks, including whether and to what extent commercial intertidal geoduck aquaculture practices impact the baseline;

5. genetic interactions between cultured and wild geoducks, including measurement of differences between cultured and wild geoducks in term of genetics and reproductive status; and

6. the impact of the use of sterile triploid geoducks and whether triploid animals diminish the genetic interactions between wild and cultured geoducks.

Conclusions of the study indicated that the farms do impact eelgrass while the farms are in place, but that the grass recovers when they are removed.  But more research on the effects is needed they added. 

Effects of harvest on the benthic layer showed little negative impact, but there are a variety of other issues around this topic that need further study, such as spatial and temporal cumulative effects, the report added.

Effects of Nitrogen and Phosphorus accumulation was ‘mixed’ but did not show any kind of damning evidence that would be cause for immediate action. It appears that the beds do lead to a small increase in both these elements.

Disease issues included finding of several previously unreported parasites in geoducks. However, this data only creates a baseline for future studies. There was no conclusion as to the long term negative effects and whether the farms are contributing in any signficant way to the parasites presence.

Issues related to destruction of eelgrass beds showed that the long term effects seemed minimal, but the short term effects were significant. This raises the issue, given the efforts to recover and protect eelgrass beds, that there is a trade off on a yearly basis between salmon habitat and geoduck planting. There is no conclusion as to how significant this is. More research is needed on this topic, the report stated.

More research was recommended on cumulative effects longer time frames, water column effects, disease identification tools and prevalence in farmed populations, contribution of issues of reproductive effects on natural populations, and genetic effects on native stocks.

The entire report can be viewed at:

http://wsg.washington.edu/research/geoduck/

State Department of Natural Resources announces trial geoduck aquaculture lease initiative on state owned lands – DNR

It is not clear where these trial tracks are located. Expect followup when known.

STATE DNR ANNOUNCES TRIAL GEODUCK AQUACULTURE LEASE INITIATIVE ON STATE-OWNED AQUATIC LANDS

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today that it is initiating a small pilot program to allow geoduck aquaculture on a limited number of state-owned aquatic lands.

DNR anticipates entering into lease agreements with existing applicants once all environmental review and permitting processes are complete. This effort is a follow-up to commitments made by the agency in 2007. Numerous steps remain before active aquaculture would begin on public lands including potential site assessment; State Environmental Policy Act review; issuance of local government conditional use permits; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Title 401 permitting; and Washington Department of Health Certification.

In 2007, the Legislature established a geoduck aquaculture research program under Washington Sea Grant and established a regulatory advisory committee with participation from government, Treaty Tribes, and citizen representatives to help guide related research. DNR plans to require monitoring at geoduck cultivation sites on state-owned aquatic land to provide further opportunity to study the effects of geoduck aquaculture on the aquatic environment.

http://www.dnr.wa.gov/BusinessPermits/News/Pages/2013_08_02_dnr_announces_trial_geoduck_aquaculture_leases_nr.aspx

Dr. Lawrence Dill Net Pen Presentation Now Online

If you are concerned about the latest proposals to bring net pen aquaculture to the Strait of Juan de Fuca (5 miles west of Port Angeles), or are concerned and unclear about the current standoff by the Department of Ecology and the Jefferson County Commissioners over allowing in water net pen aquaculture in Jefferson County (through the Shoreline Master Program updated), then you should take the time to listen to this lecture (it runs over an hour in total). It is, to be sure, one of the most comprehensive overviews of the possible negative impact of net pens I’ve ever heard, and is based on research done just north of us, in BC. While Dr. Dill clearly states that there are variations of environment between there and here, the issues are ones that we may face if they are allowed here. Then again, as pointed out in the Q&A session at the end, by the manager of one of the net pen companies south of Bainbridge Island, some of these issues have not shown up (though that comment was not based on peer review independent scientific research, but on experiential information. It was not independently verified and simply is presented as the point of view of the farm manager).

Dr.Dill is one of the foremost researchers on sea lice, and has a lot to say about the “possible” negative impacts of net pen aquaculture based on years of scientific, peer reviewed, published work. He was brought to lecture in Port Angeles last week, by a consortium of environmental groups concerned about the proposals for net pen aquaculture in Jefferson and Clallam counties lately. The event was sponsored by the Coastal Watershed Institute, Wild Salmon Center, Sierra Club Activist Network, and Olympic Peninsula Chapter Surfrider Foundation.

His talk was titled:
Evolutionary & Behavioral Ecology and Earth2Ocean Research Groups of Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada presented:
POTENTIAL NEGATIVE ECOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES OF OPEN NET PEN SALMON AQUACULTURE: LESSONS FROM BRITISH COLUMBIA

The discussion included:
• The impacts that salmon farms can have on wild salmon stocks
• Recent research on sea lice and other pathogens.
• How the iconic Fraser River sockeye salmon have been put at risk by salmon aquaculture.
• Degradation of the bottom communities below the farms.
• Pollution, by-catch of other fish species, escapes, and inadvertent or intentional reduction of marine mammal populations.
• New potential open pen aquaculture projects near Port Angeles.

The introduction by Anne did not have a microphone so it’s a bit noisy. Dr. Dill did have a microphone on, so it sounds better when you get to him speaking. The video was published in two parts. A shorter 10+ minutes to allow you to get the gist of the presentation, and the rest of the presentation in Part 2. The audio podcast is presented in it’s entirety.

You can view Part 1 of the lecture online at https://vimeo.com/47903851.

Part 2 is located at
https://vimeo.com/47906547

Or you can listen to it online at:

http://soundcloud.com/mountainstone/dr-lawrence-dill-netpens

I am adding the links above to the “Educational” links on the left hand side of the front page. You can always find it there if you need to refer to it later. Thanks to Dr. Dill for allowing the sponsoring groups to videotape the presentation, and offer it to those who were unable to make it to the discussion.

Dr. Larry Dill on Net Pens

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