On Oct. 16, at a standing-room only final hearing on Proposal 2007-34s2, “Establishing Interim Regulatory Requirements for Geoduck Aquaculture Operations and Other Aquaculture Practices…,” the Pierce County Council passed the ordinance unanimously, followed by audience applause. Council Chair Terry Lee, representing District 7 and the shoreline-rich Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas, said, “This has been a very organized effort by the community to address some serious threats to our shorelines. There’s still a whole baseline of science that needs to be addressed, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a better understanding when we complete our update of the shoreline master program.”

Ordinance 2007-34s2 now goes to the Department of Ecology for approval, denial, or request for modification. If approved unchanged, it puts temporary interim regulations in place until the county completes a three-year, state-mandated review of its shoreline master program.

Adamantly opposed by the aquaculture industry and most private growers, this is Pierce County’s first attempt at regulating aquaculture practices. It requires a bond or financial guarantee of $1 per plastic growing tube placed to “ensure that all aquaculture equipment — tubes, netting, and net-securing devices — will be completely removed.”

The language provides for forfeiture of the bond or revocation of harvest approval “if it becomes necessary for Pierce County to take action to physically remove the tubes.” It sets limits on hours and days of harvest operations, prohibits permanent lighting, requires owner-identification of tubes and nets, and adds guidelines regarding the equipment and practices used by growers.

Stakes raised

Aquaculture methods and their potential for either great benefit as a reliable food source, or purveyors of permanent aquatic harm, have drawn the attention of the World Wildlife Fund, a worldwide conservancy organization. In mid-October, the industry’s Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers’ Association held its annual conference in Oregon. The afternoon prior to that event, conference attendees were invited to attend a half-day “Mollusc Dialogue” with WWF representatives from Washington, D.C. According to Colin Brannen, WWF aquaculture program officer, over 40 people participated, representing industry, the scientific community, Nature Conservancy, NOAA Fisheries, both Washington and Oregon SeaGrant chapters. Invited but absent were local environmental groups and Puget Sound Partnership, the organization created by Gov. Christine Gregoire.

In a telephone interview with the KP News, Brannen said three common goals were established at this first meeting: develop and implement verifiable environmental and social performance levels that minimize the potential negative effects of mollusc aquaculture; recommend standards that achieve these performance levels while permitting the shellfish farming industry to remain economically viable; and continue to promote the beneficial environmental and social aspects of shellfish cultivation. WWF has divided the globe into four aquaculture regions: United States/Canada, New Zealand, Europe, and Asia. A second dialogue is anticipated next fall in Vancouver, B.C.

Several WWF participants attended a conference held in Seattle at the University of Washington in September. There, aquaculture and marine scientists from several coastal states and countries met with local industry and growers, members of the Shellfish Aquaculture Regulatory Committee (mandated by passage of HB 2220), and other invited guests. Recommendations from that conference are far-reaching and coincide with calls from both 26th Legislative District Rep. Pat Lantz and environmental groups for science and caution.

Locally, the recently formed Case Inlet Shoreline Association has ramped up efforts to block a proposed 21-acre intertidal geoduck operation in Dutcher’s Cove by resident and owner Andrew Sewell. Over the signature of attorney Richard Wooster, president of

CISA, 560 letters went out in mid-October to shoreline property owners from Herron Island and north to the Pierce/Mason county border. In part, the letter reads, “Allowing expansion of industrial aquaculture with no understanding of its long-term effects poses a grave danger for Case Inlet and all who enjoy (its) pristine waters and beaches… Please join your neighbors in protecting our shoreline by pledging your support… It’s imperative that we act now…”

Denise McElney, who spent her childhood at the family home on Dutcher’s Cove, where her mother still resides, sent an email to the KP News identifying herself as an environmental aquaculture  activist. “We believe these farms pose a threat to the health of Puget Sound and there is a significant lack of scientific evidence to support industry claims that geoduck fisheries do not have long-term adverse impacts,” she wrote. “We support the Pierce County Interim Regulations, and the county (hearing) examiner’s original determination to expire old permits.”

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