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Sara Thompson

Sara Thompson

Saturday, 31 January 2015 22:45

Economics of geoduck aquaculture

Editors note: This is the fourth and final article in our geoduck series. The first focused on the hearing for a new farm on the west side of the Key Peninsula, the second reviewed the history of geoduck aquaculture and the third concentrated on the environmental impact.

Washington is the largest producer and exporter of geoducks, and although the economics are far from transparent, there is a fascinating story to be told. Developing technology, policies affecting harvesting, turning a low-end product to a luxury food item and a growing Chinese economy all play a part in this tale.

The early years

The industry did not start until after 1967, when abundant subtidal wild beds were discovered, particularly in Washington and British Columbia. In Washington, quotas were established along with agreements with the tribes (though illegal harvesting was common and continues to be a concern).

In Canada, the harvesting was initially derby-style and the pounds harvested jumped from 2,500 tons in 1976 to nearly 8,000 in 1988. As concerns grew for the viability of wild stock, Canada changed to a quota system and harvesting fell to a low of 3,000 tons in 1995.

The target market at the time was almost exclusively in Hong Kong, and this market was reached via Vancouver, B.C. Initially geoduck was sold as a canned food and ex-vessel prices were just 50 cents a pound.

Profitability grows

As the harvest plummeted in the mid-1990s, geoduck also began to be marketed as a fresh luxury food. Prices skyrocketed and by 1995 it was selling for $7.50 per pound. Wild harvests have remained fairly constant since 2000 (between 3,500 and 4,000 tons). Wild geoduck are now also harvested in Mexico and Alaska. Prices have risen with ex-vessel geoduck now worth $15 a pound or more and $30 for fresh.

As prices increased, the technology of farming developed. By 2002, the first farms in Washington sold their products.

Shipping infrastructure also evolved and while in the early years 90 percent of geoducks were shipped through Canada, Washington now ships directly to Hong Kong and China.

As Chinas economy expands, the taste for geoduck has shown no sign of slowing. Prices continue to rise and the market has moved from Hong Kong to include most major Chinese cities.

The industrys role

Washington, like any other state, needs industry to survive. Businesses pay salaries, purchase goods in order to operate, and pay taxes and fees. In turn, employees buy goods, pay taxes and thus add to the economy.

The shellfish industry, according to the 2013 report by Northern Economics, spent $101.4 million and generated $184 million in output. It was responsible for 1,900 direct jobs and an additional 810 jobs, indirectly. 

This is not an enormous piece of the state economy (the landscaping industry is responsible for a total of 43,000 total jobs (direct and indirect) and sales of $2.4 billion. And Boeing, Amazon and Costco surely dwarf shellfish.

But Kevin Decker from Washington Sea Grant noted, The counties where aquaculture is important are largely rural. For those counties this industry is important. In addition, Washington wants to diversify its industry.

The money at stake

Farming geoducks requires a significant investment. Land must be leased. Seed must be purchased; protective equipment must be purchased and installed, monitored regularly and then removed when the geoducks have dug deep enough to elude predators. And finally, after five to seven years, they must be harvested using high-volume, low-pressure hoses brought in via barge. 

Exactly how much it costs to farm geoducks is not clear. Based on a survey of the Pacific Shellfish Growers Association, the average cost to farm all shellfish is about $5,000 per acre per year. But, as Decker noted, geoduck probably costs more to farm than other shellfish, and there is likely variation in costs depending on the size of the company. He observed that companies have been hesitant to share their data it is a small and competitive industry.

How much money is made at harvest is a bit more transparent. The Department of Natural Resources, with numbers from 2004, estimated that an acre would produce $750,000 per acre every five years. Prices have increased since that time by at least fifty percent, so an estimate of $1,000,000 every five years would be fairly conservative.

How the Key Peninsula fits in

Currently about 200 acres are leased in the state for geoduck aquaculture. On the Key Peninsula, 22.3 acres are currently approved for farming, with 2.5 acres not yet planted. An additional 16 acres were approved and are under appeal, and several other permits are pending. Burley Lagoon, immediately to the north of the Key Peninsula, is the site of two other pending permits for a total of 35.6 acres (including a mixed one for geoducks and manila clams).

All current geoduck farms in Pierce County are on the Key Peninsula. Though the county accounts for only 0.5 percent of all aquaculture in the state, it provides 11 percent of all geoduck sites, and if other permits are approved, that percentage may grow.

According to data from the Pacific Shellfish Growers Association, about 10 percent of aquaculture employees come from Pierce County, so it appears that the industry brings jobs at least at the county level.

If an average acre of farming brings in $200,000 a year ($1 million every five years), then the harvest on the peninsula is probably sold for about $4 million. This calculation does not take into account the costs of farming, the fact that some acreage remains dormant each year or that the clams may be harvested at longer intervals. But by any measure, this is a significant amount of money.

Less tangible impact

If it is difficult to get accurate figures for the expenses and income of the industry, it is probably even more difficult to measure the economic impact along other lines.

Property values are affected but the impact seems to be very site-specific and difficult to measure.

The industry touts the beneficial effects of filtering to water quality but those effects are overstated, according to Jim Brennan, a marine biologist who specializes in nearshore matters.

Brennan worked as a marine habitat biologist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and then served as the senior ecologist for King County.

We cant necessarily draw conclusions from the East Coast data on oysters,he said. Even there, it has been determined that bivalves filtering the water is not the solution to pollution. Clear water is not necessarily cleanwater.

Other benefits mentioned include fostering of stewardship with increasing awareness of the importance of water quality and serving as an ecosystem health indicator. But, as Brennan notes, there are minimal data to support those assertions and it is difficult to include them in calculating any economic benefit. The long-term consequences on the environment are still unclear as well.

What next?

Just as the environmental impact of geoduck farming continues to unfold, the economic impact story is evolving. Two studies to better understand the economics of the geoduck industry are due to be completed in June.

Decker, of Washington Sea Grant, is working with the Pacific Shellfish Institute to collect accurate data about costs and economic contribution. Katharine Wellman of Northern Economics is working on a study to help with marine spatial planning, a project that encompasses all fishing, shipping, shellfish and any activity that uses the waterways which is of interest to the state departments of natural resources, ecology and health.

Source: Much of the economic history comes from a report produced by Northern Economics for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources; from a report for Pacific Shellfish Institute by Northern Economics and from a paper currently under review at the journal Marine Policy, From Cannery to Culinary Luxury: The Evolution of the Global Geoduck Marketby Gina Louise Shamshak and Jonathan R. King.

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Want more info?

The next Shoreline Master Plan hearing is at the Peninsula High auditorium on Monday, Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m. For details, go to the Pierce County Department of Land Services at piercecountywa.org/index.aspx?NID=956. More information can be found by visiting Marine Spatial Planning msp.wa.gov/learn/about, the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat (regular updates) at coalitiontoprotectpugetsoundhabitat.org along with Washington Sea Grant studies at wsg.washington.edu

Wednesday, 31 December 2014 13:27

Transportation for seniors on the Key Peninsula

For many seniors, The Mustard Seed Project and Key Peninsula Community Services have some great options for transportation. 

First, there is a wheelchair-accessible mini-shuttle. In 2007, The Mustard Seed Project joined the Pierce County Coordinated Transportation Coalition. The organization was encouraged to apply for stimulus funds to lease a van, which added to transportation options but was not set up for physically challenged riders.

There is now a wheelchair-accessible mini-shuttle through a pilot program (Community Solutions) with Pierce Transit. The pilot program requires for 25 percent of all the users to be ADA-eligible.

There are regularly scheduled runs taking riders from home to the senior lunches at Key Peninsula Community Services, the Senior Center in Gig Harbor and the Silver Sneakers exercise program at the YMCA. In addition, riders can schedule the shuttle for medical appointments as needed. The shuttle provides a total of about 100 rides per month. 

In addition, The Mustard Seed Project provides a volunteer driver program. Catholic Community Services had a volunteer driver program in Tacoma but with no local volunteers, the time and cost for drivers were prohibitive.

Edie Morgan, executive director of The Mustard Seed Project, began local recruitment and by 2008 had a core of seven or eight to begin driving. It has since grown to a pool of 12.

The volunteer program was initially coordinate by Catholic Community Services in Tacoma but The Mustard Seed Project took over after the first year.

Catholic Community Services covers much of the cost of the coordinator through a contract and then provides background checks on the drivers, insurance and training as well as mileage costs. Those who get rides are not charged, though they are welcome to give a donation.

The significant limitation of the program is that it can only cover those clients with limited incomes. This is a problem we still contend with,Morgan said. The cost of transportation in our community is very high and we need to find a way to provide rides at an affordable rate for those who can afford it.

Currently about 125 rides per month are scheduled.

Key Peninsula Community Services has had shuttle van for nearly 10 years, thanks to an initial grant from Boeing. Maintenance and insurance is covered by funds raised through donations and grants.

It is used for first and third Tuesday shopping and for field trips. Riders call the Senior Center to arrange to be picked up at home in the morning, and are taken to the Port Orchard Fred Meyers, pharmacies as needed and then lunch together at a location of their choice.

Field trips have included day trips to Mount St. Helens, Portland and theater in Tacoma. The van is for the use of those 55 and older. Penny Gazabat, director of Community Services, noted that those using the service must be relatively able-bodied.

Need a ride?

Are you a senior or an adult with disabilities? To arrange transportation using the mini-shuttle or the volunteer driver program, or to find out about other transportation options, call The Mustard Seed Project at 884-9814.

Are you 55 or older? Need to go shopping? To arrange transportation for first and third Tuesday senior shopping to Port Orchard call Key Peninsula Community Services at 884-4440.

In our almost-island setting, 23 miles long and with countless winding back roads, how do Key Peninsula residents get around without a car? If this is like any other rural community, the car is just about the only option, and around 30 percent of residents depend on friends and family for transportation.

KP School Bus Connects, an innovative program using school buses three times a day, is a creative program that helps people get around.

In 2007, The Mustard Seed Project asked seniors to identify their most pressing barriers to aging in place. Transportation was the major concern. That year, The Mustard Seed Project joined the Pierce County Coordinated Transportation Coalition by far the smallest organization in a group that included Sound Transit. Connections formed through the coalition led to a number of initiatives to meet transportation needs.

In 2010, Pierce Transit faced funding deficits and determined that the ridership of the bus on the Key Peninsula was too low. The route was cancelled. 

The Mustard Seed Project, working with the Puget Sound Educational Service District, applied for a KP School Bus Connects pilot. Using school buses when students were not being transported, service began in November 2011. Community transportation was offered free of charge and targeted underserved populations including seniors, youth, veterans and those with special needs or low income.

The Key Peninsula Community Council took over administering the program in 2013. Marcia Harris, new to the council and with a long work history as a school administrator, including transportation, took over coordination.

What an opportunity this was a chance to make transportation available with no need for a significant capital investment,Harris said. We take advantage of the school buses already in use, and after drivers deliver students at Vaughan and Evergreen at 8:50 a.m., to return to the bus barn in Purdy, they simply make scheduled stops along the way, ending at Lake Kathryn Center and then at Purdy Park and Ride,Harris said. 

The route is repeated two hours later at 11. In the afternoon, there is a single bus leaving Peninsula High for Purdy Park and Ride and then driving as far south on the Key Peninsula as Evergreen Elementary School.

There is no need to call in advance riders simply wait at the scheduled stops. For the minimal cost of fuel and the short additional time the driver takes to make the stops en route to the bus barn, residents have access to transportation.

Dorothy Rawls has been driving the bus for the school district for 11 years and has taken the evening route for three.

Its a very colorful bunch and pretty entertainingshe said. I keep signing up for the route each year. I know what the program is about providing rides to people who really need them.

Emily Poundstone, a Peninsula High freshman, is a regular on the afternoon route that usually carries about a dozen students.

This bus has helped me succeed,she said. Without it, I would not be able to stay after school to get help or to do extra work when I need to. My parents would not be able to pick me up.

The use of the program has grown from just one to two riders a day in 2013 to often more than 10 a day since last spring.

Riders use the service for many reasons. Some can no longer drive, some cannot afford a car or have a car that needs repairs. Others are one-car families with the car needed to get to work while other family members have medical appointments, shopping or other transportation needs.

The council has submitted a renewal grant to cover the costs of coordination oversight and marketing. In addition, Harris has requested funds to expand to three days. She is also working with the Red Barn and Communities in Schools to increase outreach to students.

Some Peninsula High students have not been able to participate in after-school activities because they cant get home allowing them to use the late-afternoon return bus can make that possible. She also hopes that students from the elementary schools who would like to participate in tutoring could take advantage of a later bus.

During the summer, there was a single bus route three times a day on Tuesdays. One driver managed all three trips, which increased route predictability and consistency.

There was a real benefit to have a driver become familiar with the regular riders,Harris said.   

Service on the KP School Bus Connects is available to everyone. The schedule is available online at the Key Peninsula Community Council website kpcouncil.org or call 884-2877.

Harris is enthusiastic, feeling that this could be a model for other rural communities. She and Annie Bell, who is the director of transportation for Peninsula Schools, hope to share this model and lessons learnedwith other school district transportation directors across the state at their annual conference in late June. 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014 12:46

Geoduck Farming: Environmental Issues

Editors note: This article is the third of a four-part of a series on geoduck aquaculture. A final article on the economics of geoduck farming will be published next month.

What exactly is the environmental impact of geoduck farming? Oyster, manila clam and mussel aquaculture had been a part of Puget Sound for decades, but the ability to grow geoducks is a relatively new development.

As new farms were established in the mid 2000s, some illegally, communities worried that their shorelines were at risk. Concerns ranged from aesthetics and loss of recreational beaches to loss of habitat and the risks of PVC tubes used to protect the clams. 

In addition to worries about the immediate impact of a geoduck farm on a local community, what might be the long term consequences? What are the cumulative effects of larger numbers of farms over decades?

The state Legislature passed a bill in 2007 establishing a fund to study the impact of geoduck aquaculture over the next six years. Sea Grant, a program that is a collaboration between the University of Washington and the federal government, was chosen to commission the research. A literature review and research report were published in late 2013 and an update on new research directions was published last month.

Geoduck farms cause changes in the local beach. But is change equivalent to harm? Are species at risk? As is true with most scientific research, answers are rarely black and white, and most studies lead to further questions.

Aesthetics are an ongoing concern. Most pictures shown by opponents to demonstrate the sight of PVC tubes that have become dislodged and litter beaches are from 2006 and 2007. Practices have improved to minimize the loss of tubes, and permits require crews to clean the beach after storms. The industry has developed mesh tubes that are less visible and dont require nets over the tops.

Aquaculture advocates state that the tubes (used for the first year or two to protect young clams from predators) are visible only 5 percent of the time, but that probably underestimates the actual visual experience.

Low tides, when the tubes are visible, are at night during the winter but in daytime during the summer. This means that they are visible roughly 20 percent of the time during spring and summer months.

Opponents decry the trapping of birds in nets, though this is a relatively rare occurrence.

According to experts testifying on behalf of Longbranch Shellfish at a Shoreline Hearing Board appeal, PVC tubes appear to be relatively safe. The material is inert and sediment near the tubes has not shown any evidence of microplastics or leaching of toxins.

There is currently little or no evidence that the tubes or debris from the tubes (which sinks to the bottom of the Sound) would harm fish or birds. The actual volume of debris on the floor of the Sound is unknown, however.

The Sea Grant research studies looked at the impact of geoduck farming on the water, sediment, eelgrass and animals living in the sediment and at the surface. The studies were limited in overall scope, and although substantial negative impacts were not seen, there were clearly some differences between geoduck farms and adjacent beaches. Further research was recommended.

Laura Hendricks, of the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound, continues to be concerned about the impact of PVC debris and microplastics as the volume of farming expands. Wayne Daley, a former Boeing engineer who has a fisheries degree and has worked as a consultant since 1996, is critical of the Sea Grant-sponsored studies. He said that until the impact on forage fish (herring and sea lance) and phytoplankton on the near shore is understood, there should be a hold on additional farms.

How much aquaculture is too much? Are there any limits on the amount of shoreline that could be farmed?

Ty Booth and Dave Risvold of the Pierce County Land Panning and Services Department noted that although any landowner who owns tidelands could apply for an aquaculture permit, there are practical limitations.

First, there are physical characteristics of a given beach that may make geoduck farming in particular impossible. Second, the steps involved in applying for a permit are onerous, particularly for individuals.

The Department of Ecology recently informed counties that the process must include a conditional use permit which requires review and approval by Ecology. But 60 percent of Washington tidelands are privately owned and there is no legislation that absolutely limits the number of farms in Puget Sound.

Booth notes, though, that between 1997 and 2005, six permits for geoduck farms were approved. Since that time, three have been approved by Pierce County and two are under appeal. Nine permits are pending, although some of those applications are old and may not be pursued.

Cumulative impact looking at the effects of aquaculture over multiple harvests and taking into account the increased number of acres farmed is now the key issue. It is included in shoreline master plans to assure that there is no net loss of ecological functions. No net lossis not defined in black and white terms, however.

Explained Perry Lund, Southwest Region unit supervisor for the Department of Ecology, When we look at any permit, we have to look at the whole picture, and look not just at the specific project. We must take into account mitigation, restoration and the broader planning concepts within the Shoreline Master Program.

Any project, whether it is putting in a septic system, a dock or bulkhead, or starting a geoduck farm, will cause a change but we want to assure as much as possible that it does not lead to a substantial negative impact,Lund said.

What comes next? Work through Sea Grant continues, though it depends on funding from the state Legislature. Larry Seaquist wasinstrumental in getting recent funding for aquaculture research, and it is not clear who will continue to advocate for money since he lost his legislative seat in the lastelection.

Washington Sea Grant researchers are now concentrating on developing models to understand the effects of aquaculture on the food web; addressing thephysical, biological and chemical factors interacting with aquaculture (including development of an early warning system for ocean acidification); fullyassessing the economic impacts of aquaculture and spatial planning (extent of current farms, data on ecological sensitivity and otherconsiderations such as water quality, physical constraints, designated areas for other uses).

P. Sean McDonald, PhD, a UW researcher working with the Sea Grant program, said, The Puget Sound shore is a hard place for theanimals that live there. Storms, surf and flooding may be as disruptive to their environment as geoduck farming. But weneed to understand if there is a tipping point, where the effects over time or due to increased extent are causing harm to our beaches.

We are using the data from the Sea Grant-sponsored geoduckprojects to model how much aquaculture might be too much or whether thereis a tipping point beyond which aquaculture expansion could affect the environment more broadly,McDonald said.

The Lakebay Marina is once again becoming a destination location and owners Mark and Cindy Scott have plans to honor its historic past as they slowly renovate the buildings.

They purchased the property in 2012, opened for business in April 2013, and have welcomed Key Peninsula residents as well as boaters, who have begun arriving in large numbers during the summer.

The pier was initially built to accommodate the Mosquito Fleet steamboats amassed by Conrad Lorenz and his sons to ship lumber from the Key Peninsula.

In 1928, the property became home to the Western Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association. The co-op had feed for animals, as well as tractor and other equipment, and stored dairy products mostly eggs headed to Tacoma. In the 1950s, as roads improved, the last of the Mosquito Fleet retired, and the co-op moved from Lakebay.

At that time the location was transformed to a boating destination. Docks were built, a large dance floor was added to the building, and yachts began to motor to visit.

Small cabins were built on shore and it became the Lakebay Marina and Resort. The Hostetler family purchased and ran the business starting in the late 1960s.

When Mr. Hostetler died, his eight children continued to operate the marina, but they all had busy lives and competing priorities Mark Scott was in contact with them for eight years before they all agreed to sell to him. He remembers coming to the café as a child and wanted to see the place come back to its unique presence on Puget Sound.

The new owners have been slowly restoring the property, learning the restaurant trade and scheduling wine and beer tastings featuring local wineries and breweries. They have also hosted a movie premier and musical events. And they have established an annual tradition: Every Memorial Day Weekend, they host a wine tasting from the Mosquito Fleet Winery and free clams.

I know the marina business. Running a restaurant involved a steep learning curve,Scott said.

The owner of Jimmy Ds in Poulsbo initially helped him open the restaurant and they are now running it on their own. His top priority: a top-quality burger ground chuck and a toasted buttered bun.

His eyes light up as he describes the local tomatoes from My Mothers Garden. They also serve fish and chips. As they succeed in offering consistent quality with these offerings, they plan to expand the menu.

Future plans

Scott says the marina is full and working well. He hopes to build and install a pump-out barge. This is a program coordinated with the Army Corps of Engineers and state parks, offering a service to boats to encourage them to pump out their black waterat the barge for disposal rather than dumping it into the Sound.

The Scotts have refurbished a garage and they will soon replace the roof and windows and repair the siding on the parsonage house. They plan to move into the house within a year or so, once their son graduates from high school on Bainbridge Island.

The house was built in about 1920 by Dolly Caspary, the Lakebay postmaster. In the early 1930s, Dr. Johnson, an osteopath who delivered several local babies, lived there. It later served as the parsonage for the Lakebay Community Church. 

The three small cabins on the property have been left standing so that when they are replaced, the permitting process will be simpler. There is one rental cabin now available and the Scotts hope to improve the camping and RV sites.

The restoration and maintenance are all costly, though Scott emphasizes that the marina and resort is a very sustainable business. It is maintenance of the infrastructure such as the pilings that is especially expensive.

He hopes to get recognition as a historic site, either at the county or at a national level. This would assure that when he and his wife are no longer owners, the establishment would continue to play a central role in the community. And it might also help provide funding sources for preservation and restoration.

The Scotts invite customers to visit. Summers are very busy, but there is plenty of room at the counter for a great burger and fries this winter.  

Winter hours are 5-9 p.m. on Fridays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. For information about events, rentals and services provided, visit lakebaymarina.com.

Last month, the Pierce County Hearing Examiner approved Taylor Shellfishs permit to establish a geoduck farm at the Haley property. (Read original article online at http://www.keypennews.com

Whether that is seen as good news or bad depends on ones perspective. To Taylor Shellfish and the Pierce County Department of Land Services, this is good news — encouraging a sustainable industry that appears to do little, if any, environmental harm and fits with the state and local mandates of preferred use of shorelines.

To local activist Laura Hendricks of the  Coalition to Save Puget Sound, this is bad news, one more step in the goal of the shellfish industry to ultimately farm along the entire available coastline. Her group will appeal the decision at the state level, as they have every decision to approve such permits.

“The shellfish industry is greedy,” she said.

Barb Schoos, who with her neighbors formed Longbranch Shellfish, was excited to put their high-bank beach to work. She had read about the positive impact of geoducks on water quality, knew that the tubes that protect the new clams are visible only during low tides and that they are pulled after about 18 months when the clams are deep enough. She felt this would be a great way to bring in retirement income.

They plan to plant about a half acre each year over five years. She had heard plenty of negativity about geoduck farms. In fact, the permitting process was put on hold while Pierce County looked at all the evidence available. The permit was approved and has passed two environmental appeals. The plan is to plant the first “crop” next spring. 

“If you dont have a stake in this, it is easy to jump on the negative bandwagon,” Schoos said.

But after looking at all the studies, she is convinced that this is an environmentally responsible way to use tidelands.

“If I find out that this farm is not a net positive for our water and beach, I will be the first to close it down,” she said.

Until 50 years ago, geoducks were a well-kept secret of the Pacific Northwest — harvesting was limited to low tides and Herculean-level digging. Then in 1960, a Navy diver searching for lost torpedoes discovered beds of them deep in Puget Sound.

The state auctioned the rights to harvest the clams. One harvester, Brian Hodgson, made forays to the Far East, ultimately developing a market there. He also became a kingpin in geoduck shenanigans and ultimately pled guilty in the 1980s to stealing a million pounds of the now-valuable commodity. Illegal activity on a smaller scale continues, with one man recently sentenced.

The actual farming of geoducks has been possible for less than two decades. In the 1980s, biologist C. Lynn Goodwin and colleagues working at a state lab produced baby clams in tanks. They were worried that ongoing harvesting could have a serious impact on the geoduck population. It took 10 years to discover how to transplant them into beaches and protect them from predators — using PVC pipes planted a foot apart and topped by netting for the first 12 to 18 months until the clams dig deep enough to be safe.

Once the technology was developed, geoduck farms were established on privately owned tidelands (60 percent of Washington state tidelands are privately owned), mostly leased to shellfish companies. By the mid-2000s, the number of farms had grown significantly and environmental and local citizen groups raised an alarm.

“Ive always loved wildlife but was not an environmentalist,” Hendricks said of her early involvement. “My background is in economics. When I found out there were plans for a geoduck farm in front of my place on Henderson Bay, I looked into what that entailed and I was horrified.”

She went to visit Totten Inlet, where shellfish aquaculture — primarily clams and oysters — has been in full force for decades. It is the most densely farmed area in Puget Sound. As she approached by boat, she noticed that as they neared the inlet, the density and diversity of wildlife plummeted.

Many local shoreline advocacy groups formed, including the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound, to try to limit the expansion of the industry and to fully understand the environmental impacts. “This has been a team effort,” Hendricks said.

Pat Lantz, then the state representative from Gig Harbor, sponsored legislation in 2007 that led to funding of research on the impact of geoduck farming (Sea Grant) and the creation of the Shellfish Regulatory Committee, and directed the Department of Ecology to develop Shoreline Master Program guidelines for geoduck aquaculture siting and operations.

Sea Grant findings were published in 2013.

“Our research program found that populations of some species are altered by geoduck aquaculture activities, but that the range of effects varies from modestly negative to modestly positive,” said Dr. Glenn VanBlaricom, one of the reports principal investigators. “We found no evidence that geoduck aquaculture is causing fundamental shifts in ecosystem-scale structure or function in Puget Sound.”

The Shoreline Management Act was initially passed in 1971 “to prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the states shorelines.” It established the concept of preferred use, noting that to the maximum extent possible, the shorelines should be reserved for “water-oriented” uses, including “water-dependent,” “water-related” and “water-enjoyment” uses. Over the past 30 years, guidelines have been refined, but aquaculture is one of those water-dependent preferred uses.

In 2011 the Shellfish Initiative was passed.   Quoted directly from the Initiative:

“The Washington State Shellfish Initiative is a convergence of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA) National Shellfish Initiative and the States interest in promoting a critical clean water industry. While the initiative supports Governor Gregoires goal of a “digable” Puget Sound by 2020, it also encompasses the extraordinary value of shellfish resources on the coast. As envisioned, the initiative will protect and enhance a resource that is important for jobs, industry, citizens and tribes…

The Puget Sound Partnership has targeted a net increase from 2007 to 2020 of 10,800 harvestable shellfish acres, which includes 7,000 acres where harvest is currently prohibited in Puget Sound.  However, the recent shellfish downgrade in Samish Bay is a reminder of the constant vigilance needed by landowners, businesses and local, state, federal and tribal governments to protect and restore shellfish beds. Such efforts also are required on the coast where there is considerable opportunity to enhance shellfish resources.

To restore and expand shellfish resources, Washington must renew its protection, restoration and enhancement efforts. These efforts will pay off in increased recreation, additional clean water jobs, and a healthier Puget Sound and coastal marine waters.”  

While heralded by many, those opposing growth of the shellfish industry saw this as further threat to unfettered expansion. “We have evidence that the goal of the industry is to have 70 percent of available shoreline be taken over by commercial shellfish farms,” stated Hendricks.

Diane Cooper, of Taylor, notes that the expansion feared by Hendricks is not possible. “One of the limiting factors in geoduck farms is the quantity of seed available to plant,” she said.

Dave Risvold, environmental biologist with Pierce County Department of Land Services, said he appreciates the work done by advocates in the early years resulting in taking a hard look at the impact of aquaculture on Puget Sound.

We don’t want to have the Totten Inlet level of density in shellfish aquaculture in Pierce County,” he said.

But, as a current example, the Haley property meets the Shoreline Management Act criteria. It is high bank with few nearby neighbors. 

“If not there, then where?” he asked.

 

 

Additional resources: The history of the geoduck industry came from two articles –– one from Audubon Magazine and one from the Smithsonian Magazine. 

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