Geoduck farming practices, and the reality that there are pending applications for more farms on the Key Peninsula, continue to concern area residents. Last month, a meeting was held in Gig Harbor between several opposition groups, at least one waterfront owner who is seeking a farming permit, and Taylor Shellfish Farms. The Pierce County Council held its September meeting in Gig Harbor, and a resolution addressing geoduck farms, singled out from all other aquaculture, was introduced. After several citizens and a council member questioned shellfish industry methods, the resolution was passed unanimously. This contentious discussion is ongoing, with some permit applications receiving considerably more attention than others.
A June 29, 2006, Pierce County Planning and Land Services’ staff report obtained from that agency references an application for a 1.89-acre geoduck aquaculture permit “in the intertidal zone of private tidelands” owned by David and Sabra Stratford (through their agent, Taylor Shellfish Farms). The completed application date was Oct. 25, 2005. The report states the scope of the farming proposal, site inspection, governing regulations, and environmental review in the “Findings of Fact.” Also included in the document is a section for comments from other agencies, which reads, “No written adverse comments were received from abutting property owners, general public, or reviewing governmental agencies.”
In contrast, an application for a similar aquaculture permit on private intertidal lands owned by the
Souers’ family on Lorenz Road at Mayo Cove, completed in February of this year, has sparked creation of an anti-geoduck farm group (Mayo Cove Shoreline Association). Its founder, Cynthia Johnson-Kuntz, says, “This is not a dispute between two families. We sent out a letter to gauge how the community feels, and (they) want to save our environment from destruction (by shellfish companies.) We do not oppose aquaculture. We do oppose locating industrial operations in heavily recreational and residential areas, and we believe environmental impact studies need to be completed by an impartial party with regard to industrial geoduck locations.” According to Jim Gibbons, owner of Seattle Shellfish, there are only a handful of geoduck farms in operation on the Key Peninsula, including his company’s tideland leases and a local geoduck business in Longbranch.
All geoduck aquaculture permits are subject to regulations under the Pierce County Shoreline Master Program, which “serves as the Comprehensive Plan for shorelines within unincorporated Pierce County.” This program categorizes all shoreline areas into classified “environments.” In the May 2006 Stratford report, the county issued a Determination of Non-Significance statement “after it was determined that there would be no probable significant adverse environmental impacts as a result of the proposal.” The commentary also notes the immediate adjacent lands consist of one residence with a wooden bulkhead, and forested, high-bank, unimproved land, concluding that “the proposal would maximize use of this shoreline; however, the aesthetic impacts would be temporary.”
The staff report also required the applicant (Taylor Shellfish) to comply with “Washington State Geoduck Growers Environmental Code of Practice,” which was submitted with the application. In a September telephone interview, Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish said the code of practice grew out of a general shellfish code of practice, sometime in 1999-2000, charging growers to “walk their talk” by embracing environmental standards. He also noted that in Pierce County, the shellfish industry is regulated first by the shoreline regulations, and second by industry standards; this is not the case in all counties statewide.
A resolution to amend the Shoreline Management Use Regulations, sponsored by Councilman Terry Lee, and adopted at the Sept. 12 Pierce County Council meeting in Gig Harbor, charges PALS with developing nonindustry-created recommendations regarding standards applicable to aquacultural practices. (The entire Shoreline Master Plan will be updated by 2008, with Department of Ecology support, according to Lee.) The resolution states, in part, “general guidelines… may need to be modified… regarding standards aquacultural operations must comply with in order to minimize adverse impacts.” Recommendations from PALS, in consultation with the Washington State Department of Ecology and other state agencies, should address, at a minimum, “the impacts of aquacultural practices on water quality, the nearshore environment, and general aesthetic quality of the shoreline.”
Lee’s office has also included 41 proposed conditions regarding aquaculture for examiners to consider. Lee said the purpose of the resolution was to “develop (aquaculture) science and internal regulations that could be potentially rolled into the revised SMP in 2008.” The Pierce County Planning Commission deadline for receipt of the amended recommendations is Dec. 1. Mike Erkinnen, one of two county planners working on the project, said they hoped to have an initial schedule with a proposed “guidelines for best practice” draft to the Peninsula Advisory Commission by Nov. 8.
Representing “Save Our Shorelines!” (a self-described “neighborhood group that protects recreational beaches from commercial aquaculture”) at the September council meeting, Laurie Brauneis said, “We endorse the language of this resolution, and request that PALS (and other participating agencies) include citizen representatives in this process (of evaluation and recommendation).” Brauneis quoted several of the seven mandated objectives of a Department of Ecology Aquaculture Siting Study, asking the council to “preserve the natural character of the shoreline, protect the resources and ecology of the shoreline, increase public access to publicly owned areas of the shorelines, and (take no action) resulting in short-term benefit (at the cost of) long-term (loss).”
In Brauneis’ opinion, the shellfish industry “poo-poos” aesthetics, but, quoting a 1982 Adjacent Lands Guidance documents from the DOE Shorelines Division, she said “the regulations are pretty strong on public use of our shoreline, and environmental protection… somebody thought it was important.” That document states, in part, “Consideration must be given to protection of the visual quality of the shoreline resource… the public’s opportunity to enjoy the physical and aesthetic qualities of natural shorelines of the state shall be preserved to the greatest extent feasible consistent with the overall best interest of the state and the people generally.”
Laura Hendricks, president of Henderson Bay Shoreline Association, told the council that “waterfront owners just aren’t ready to relinquish their beaches to be liquefied by shellfish companies.” She called on the council to place a moratorium on geoduck farming permits until industry science and the proposed resolution are implemented. Councilman Timothy Farrell, representing District 4 (Tacoma), also asked Lee about a moratorium, saying, “Aquaculture has turned into a messy game, it seems. For all of you who haven’t seen (a geoduck farm), it basically destroys the beach… These people (shellfish companies) have not been friendly to Pierce County residents.”
In an earlier interview, Lee said he had been advised by county counsel that a moratorium is not possible. A lawsuit on Bainbridge Island concerning conflict in the “unique criteria” of shoreline development in the Growth Management and Shoreline Management Acts hopes to clarify this point in the coming months through a Washington Supreme Court review.
The Seattle-based Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an organization monitoring water quality issues relative to the Clean Water Act, is exploring ways they may be of help to environmental groups calling for assistance in fending off pending or new geoduck aquaculture permits. Executive Director Sue Joerger says this is a new issue for them, and inquiries seem concerned about debris left behind, and the harvest technique that “upsets the whole ecosystem of the tidelands.” PSA must consider local, state, and federal regulations, including the Clean Water Act, when interceding. How they may become involved and what legal tools are available to challenge permits is unknown; their concern is the extent of potential environmental impact on the emerging magnitude of this aquaculture.
“Our mission is clear,” says Joerger. “It’s water quality.”
The Henderson Bay Shoreline Association will host a community meeting on Oct. 4 at 7 pm. at the Rosedale Community Hall next to the Rosedale Market (formerly Templetons) in Gig Harbor to discuss geoduck farming and aquaculture rafting planned for local shorelines in the future. A resident of Totten Inlet, where there is 30 miles of intensive aquaculture, will tell the story of the impact on their community.