Washington Shellfish owner Doug McRae had the chance to present his case in November in the dispute with the county over his geoduck harvesting business. A total of 79 exhibits were entered into evidence during the course of the hearing that included maps, photographs, documents, letters, and equipment relating to commercial geoduck harvesting.
Addressing a point of contention by the county, McRae openly admitted that there was inadvertent planting of geoducks in eelgrass beds by students during the first year, in 2000, when supervisory procedures were still in their infancy, but said it did not occur in subsequent years once the instruction and guidance had been refined. Of the 500,000 tubes that were planted by the company, between 100 and 150 had been planted in the eelgrass the first year, McRae said.
Testimony included statements from Dr. Daniel Cheney, executive director and senior scientist for the Pacific Shellfish Institute, a nonprofit aquaculture resource and research group based in Olympia, who explained that “eelgrass is a very productive and robust species.” He testified that “the county’s claim that Washington Shellfish operation has been harmful to eelgrass is unfounded, unproven, and un-justified.”
Cheney presented a detailed presentation that showed his studies of eelgrass and shellfish aquaculture activities from 1994-2000 had proven that “shellfish planting can and does very easily enhance optimal growth conditions for eelgrass.” He also said that the subsequent removal of protective geoduck tubes by the county in August “caused significant damage in that virtually all of those geoducks that were living in and protected by the tubes were most likely killed.”
Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, said that their agencies’ concern for the ecosystem was integrated into the code of practices and that Washington Shellfish has been a member of the organization since 2000 and to the best of her knowledge had consistently adhered to those practices.
The testimonies also disputed the fact that a Department of Natural Resources permit was required for the area and that the aquaculture permit stated as required from the Army Corps of Engineers has not been enforced for other commercial companies.
Two complaints from local residents regarding the company’s manner of using the Purdy Sandspit were also heard.
A decision and subsequent ruling on the case by the county was expected at the end of November, after press deadline.