Willapa Bay Oyster Farmers Ask State Again For Permission To Use Neurotoxin -KPLU

Here we go again. Oyster farmers have decided to risk public outrage and possible boycott on all shellfish by feeling a need to spray these poisons. The public seems to feel (and the industry markets itself) that oysters come out of the ocean or Sound, are in a “natural” state and as such aren’t tainted by human poisons. Last year’s public call by restaurants to boycott all shellfish seem to be lost on the industry out in Willapa Bay. It appears another boycott is called for. They have to find another way, or clearly label their products. Perhaps if shrimp are destroying the beds and no other option is available, then they need to end the growing of oysters there. But it seems that with all the spraying over multiple years, that if they cannot control it, they have lost the game. Maybe an option would be to have label for oysters that signifies a non sprayed product, like an organic label. The question that this raises is “what is a sustainable industry, and at what price?” To be poisoning an entire ecosystem on behalf of a small group of shellfish growers, seems to be an unfair trade off for the public at large. It appears to be a violation of the public trust, in both senses of that phrase. This Bay, with it’s vast ecological framework, is a public trust for this and future generations,and it could  be argued in court that by continuing to use a systemic chemical that appears to not work over the long term, that the oystermen and the WSDoE is putting this ecosystem at risk. 

Oyster farmers in Willapa Bay are asking the Washington State Department of Ecology for permission, again, to use a neurotoxic chemical to get rid of native shrimp. Large numbers of the burrowing shrimp are turning the tide flats into quicksand, making the land unusable for growing oysters. The chemical, imidacloprid, would paralyze the shrimp. They would suffocate and die. Jennifer Wing reports. (KPLU)

My friend Joe Breskin, commented on this issue the other day on Google+.

What they did not want the public to know was that the mudflats where the non-native Pacific Oysters are grown have been getting sprayed with this stuff since 1963, and that the stuff – delivered from helicopters as a wettable powder – drifts great distances and poisons its way up and down the entire food-web, killing or damaging everything with a nervous system from the surface of the water to over 3′ down (where the native shrimp live) – from sand fleas to salmon – as well as birds and bees, and although the growers describe spraying “empty” oyster beds in sequence, like a crop rotation, the stuff is aerial sprayed on mudflats at low tide and drifts significant distances, affecting everything alive, and since 1984 Carbaryl had been sprayed directly across active oyster beds. Drift covers thousands of additional acres, carried by the tides beyond the target areas, and in its wake dying creatures struggle to the surface to die, where they are picked up and carried off by gulls and crows as well as the smaller shorebirds: dowitchers, dunlins, plovers, turnstones. and whimbrels.

Willapa Bay plan cuts Chinook production by one-third – Longview Daily News

The scientific debate over whether hatchery fish are outcompeting natives and subsequent lawsuits, have had an effect. This is good news for wild fish and wild fish advocates. The hatchery fish have been proven to lead to disasterous results in wild fish recovery. The study on wild vs. hatchery fish in the Rogue River basin is what has prompted this. The Rogue, a river that has never had a hatchery, has seen increases in native fish, while the similar river in Washington, from an environmental POV, the Skagit, which includes hatcheries, has seen their wild fish decimated. The key event that has been shown to be the differentiator is the introduction of hatchery fish into the Skagit. Now WDFW is acting on these lawsuits.

The production of hatchery Chinook in Willapa Bay will decrease by more than one-third as a result of a policy adopted recently by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. The policy, adopted in June, also is likely to decrease the number of fish commercial fishermen can catch if the commission’s action survives a legal challenge. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have said that they needed to adopt the new policy to avoid having the Chinook listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. (Longview Daily News)


Field report on Japanese Eelgrass being used by herring

The backstory here is that the shellfish industry is pushing for the ability to spray herbicides on Z. Japonica. I felt it would be worth having you read direct reports on what scientists on the ground are finding, rather than take the words of what could be viewed as biased industry spokesmen, or perhaps you don’t trust environmentalists. I think that a moratorium on this issue until serious research can be done, or reviewed in depth, is worth a consideration.

Kathy Hamel, WDOE:

SUBJECT: Zostera japonica as documented herring spawning habitat in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay

I wish to comment from my personal observations of the usage of “japanese eelgrass” as herring spawning substrate in Washington’s coastal estuaries. I am a recently retired WDFW forage fish biologist, having spent 39 years involved in investigations of herring, surf smelt, and Pacific sand lance biology, spawning ecology and critical spawning habitat mapping throughout the state of Washington. By way of record of my professional knowledge and experience, see: Penttila, D.E., 2007. The marine forage fishes of Puget Sound. PSNERP Tech Report 2007-03, at http://www.pugetsoundnearshore.org .

I have personally observed the usage of middle intertidal beds of Zostera japonica as egg-deposition substrate by Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay stocks of Pacific herring during their February-March spawning seasons. These records of my observations would be housed within the files and photo notebooks of the WDFW Marine Resources Division at their LaConner, WA office, if more specific details were needed. These records are considered public information, and I presume I would still have personal access to them, if requested. The degee to which extensive beds of Zostera japonica also serve as herring spawning habitat in the Salish Sea region, where herring spawning on adjacent beds of Z. marina overlaps with extensive aquaculture operations, such as Drayton Harbor (Whatcom Co.) and Samish Bay (Skagit Co.), should also be investigated before any industrial-scale applications of herbicides are allowed.

In southern Grays Harbor, I photographed as well as sampled herring eggs on Zostera japonica beds in the vicinity of the Bay City bridge over the Elk River estuary. In Willapa Bay, I recall herring eggs being found on Zostera japonica beds just inshore of the native Z. marina beds in the area north of Oysterville. In both areas, the herring spawning sites in question were within short distances of active shellfish aquaculture plots, and thus would be damaged or destroyed by the application of pest-control herbicides.

In my opinion, the herring spawning habitats of Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay already suffer enough damage from uncontrolled (ie. “voluntary codes of practice”) aquaculture activities annually, through the dredging of ground-cultured oysters during the spawning season, stomping and shading. They should not be further impacted by yet another ill-considered act for the benefit of the commercial aquaculture industry’s bottom line.

In these coastal estuaries, any attempted chemical control of Z. japonica beds immediately inshore and possibly intermingled with the inshore portions of Z.. marina beds would cause damage to the native Z. marina beds and their herring spawning habitat function. It is a poorly kept secret that the aquaculture industry has for generations considered eelgrass to be a “pest” and has routinely pursued measures to eradicate the species from their culture plots, despite the species’ clear ecological value.* Such damage to herring spawning habitats should be considered a violation of the WA State GMA, WA State SMA, the WAC Hydraulic Code Rules and federal Essential Fish Habitat rules for the conservation of ESA-listed salmonids in this region, all of which advocate no-net-loss protections for documented herring spawning grounds.

* Simenstad, C.A., and K.I. Fresh, 1995. Influence of intertidal aquaculture on benthic communities in Pacific Northwest estuaries: scales of disturbance. Estuaries, Vol 18, No. 1A, p. 43-70.

Thank you for this opportunity for input.

Dan Penttila
Salish Sea Biological (consulting on forage fish matters)
5108 Kingsway
Anacortes, WA 98221
tel: (360) 293-8110
e-mail: depenttila@fidalgo.net