To protect rural jobs, health of Willapa Bay, shellfish growers plan to appeal blatantly political Ecology ruling

September 28, 2018


(Pacific County) The Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) will appeal the state Department of Ecology’s blatantly political denial of the association’s permit application to control a burrowing shrimp infestation that is destroying the ecosystems of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, decimating the shellfish industry, and threatening to devastate the rural economy of southwest Washington.

“This decision, and the glacially slow process that produced it, were clearly driven by the political winds of the moment,” said Ken Wiegardt, president of the WGHOGA. “The department has reversed itself completely from its own scientific findings a year ago, without any new research to justify that reversal. Meanwhile, burrowing shrimp have had another year to destroy our oyster beds and severely damage our industry, our estuary, and our entire rural economy. We have no choice but to appeal to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board, and to seek compensation for our significant damage in court.”

In its final determination, Ecology is hiding behind decisions by Canada and the European Union on other, unrelated uses of imidacloprid, not new science regarding its use to treat shellfish beds infested with burrowing shrimp. Those studies are overwhelmingly focused on the effects on freshwater insects, not marine invertebrates, and are not applicable.

Ecology has deliberately slow-walked the permitting process since 2015, when it abruptly terminated its original permit to control the burrowing shrimp under political pressure from a handful of uninformed Seattle chefs and environmental activists. Since then, hundreds of acres of productive beds have been lost, along with millions of dollars of oyster production. Farms are now being lost due to the inability of Ecology to make decisions based on science, not the misplaced ideology that all pesticide use must be stopped in Washington. In addition, hundreds of acres of productive natural habitat are being lost by the liquifying action of this shrimp infestation, turning vast swaths of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor into ecological wastelands.

The need for the growers’ proposed pest-control program – not just limited to the future viability of oyster farming, but for the health of the estuary ecosystem – and the environmental safety of the program have been clearly demonstrated, in Ecology’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement completed in September 2017, and in its Final Environmental Impact Statement completed in April of 2015 for the original permit.

The cancelled 2015 permit would have allowed WGHOGA growers to treat 2,000 acres. The association’s 2016 permit application sought authority to treat 500 acres. Earlier this year, Ecology also rejected WGHOGA’s proposed modification to reduce acreage in the first year of the permit to allow for scientific monitoring to prove the safety of the treatment. Ecology has opposed the use of funds appropriated by the Washington State legislature to address the scientific uncertainty that Ecology claims justify its permit denial. Clearly, politics are at work when an agency refuses to use funds appropriated by the legislature to improve the science and instead stonewalls and delays before issuing an opinion that reverses its own previous decisions and analysis of the existing scientific data.

The largest private employer in Pacific County, local shellfish farmers here and in Grays Harbor are responsible for nearly 2,000 rural, family-wage jobs, and contribute $102 million in economic output to the region. Shellfish growers estimate that, if left uncontrolled, the burrowing ghost shrimp infestation could cause oyster production to collapse by up to 90 percent in the coming years.

More information about the burrowing ghost shrimp infestation and WGHOGA’s proposed pest-control program can be found here: