Shellfish growers denounce tentative permit denial as political, sound alarm about impact on rural economy and the health of the bay

April 10, 2018

April 9, 2018

Growers offer reasonable compromise to save thousands of rural jobs

(Pacific County) The Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) today denounced as political the state Department of Ecology’s tentative 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.

“We believe this decision is based on politics and not on sound science,” said Ken Wiegardt, president of the WGHOGA. “The department has reversed itself completely from the scientific findings of its own Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released in September, without any actual new research. If this political, non-scientific decision stands, burrowing shrimp will continue to destroy our oyster beds and severely damage our industry, our estuary and our entire rural economy.”

Wiegardt said both the need for the growers’ proposed pest-control program – not just limited to the future viability of natural, on-bottom culture of Pacific oysters, but to associated and dependent species as well, including Dungeness crabs – and the environmental safety of the program have been clearly demonstrated, which Ecology soundly found to be the case in its Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement completed in September 2017, and in its Final Environmental Impact Statement completed in April of 2015.

“Gov. Inslee acknowledged the need to control the burrowing shrimp when he toured the tide-flats last year, and the Legislature acknowledged this when it appropriated money in this year’s operating budget to conduct scientific monitoring of the pest-control program,” said Wiegardt.

The monitoring funded by the Legislature would be supervised by a panel of expert scientists to study potential off-plot effects of the program, as well as effects in sediments with high levels of organic materials. These are the two areas of “new” scientific uncertainty cited by Ecology’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

“We can’t do any monitoring or studies – which means we can never answer the scientific questions raised in the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement – unless we get approval of the permit,” said Wiegardt. “There is no other authority to apply the pesticide that can be used by the growers, or by the scientists who would do the monitoring.”

According to Wiegardt, Ecology fully participated in past experimental studies of this treatment, and never raised these concerns when they did so. “To us, it seems like Ecology has been laying in the weeds, delaying action on our permit application, and politicizing the future of our farms,” he said.

WGHOGA members have offered a modification to the permit application that they claim is superior to denial, because it provides a path for these areas of uncertainty to be addressed, with science leading the way – while also providing data for other questions recently raised by Ecology, such as the persistence of the chemical over time.

In 2015, WGHOGA was granted a permit to treat 2,000 acres, although the permit was canceled by Ecology. The association’s 2016 permit application, now pending for more than two years, sought authority to treat 500 acres, or one-quarter of the initial approved permit. WGHOGA’s newly proposed modification to this already-much-reduced application is for approval with reduced acreage in the first year of the permit. WGHOGA also proposes that the permit specify that these acres can be used only to conduct scientific monitoring, and that the permit specify that approval over the rest of the permit cycle will depend on the results of that monitoring.

“In other words, real-time monitoring, with pass-fail grading, and continued treatment contingent upon the monitoring showing no environmental harm,” said Wiegardt. “This to us seems like a reasonable proposal that allows the growers to conduct some burrowing shrimp control on our oyster beds, guarantees the highest degree of confidence in the environmental safety of the program, and performs much-needed field testing to resolve scientific questions that could not otherwise be performing without the issuance of a permit.”

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.

“We do not believe it is in the interests of the Governor, the Legislature, the Department of Ecology, or the people of Pacific County to let the ghost shrimp overrun the ecosystem and kill our jobs, our businesses and our rural economy,” said Wiegardt.

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