Management of shellfish aquaculture is taking front and center stage for the Key and Gig Harbor Peninsulas again.
The controversial issue is a priority of county and state elected officials, the county planning commission, the state department of ecology, a Sea Grant science study, state shellfish farming companies, and shoreline residents who are themselves divided on the issue.
Aquaculture is the farming of fish, shellfish or other aquatic plants and animals and is considered by the policies of the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) as “a water-dependent use and, when managed consistent with control of pollution and prevention of damage to the environment, is a preferred use of the water.”
One task of the SMP is to determine rules and regulations to manage aquaculture and particularly geoduck farming in particular.
On Oct. 15, the Pierce County Planning Commission transmitted their amendments of the program to the Pierce County Council. The amendments were a result of several years of meetings by the Shoreline Citizens’ Advisory Group and 22 public meetings and open houses allowing public discussion.
Imperfections of the county process were pointed out at a Sept. 21 forum presented by the Friends of the Burley Lagoon at the Burley Community Center.
The audience exchanged their concerns with University of Washington Sea Grant scientists Dr. Glenn VanBlaricom and Dr. P. Sean McDonald, State Representative Larry Seaquist and Pierce County Councilman Stan Flemming.
Referring to the 22 public meetings, Laura Hendricks, Henderson Bay resident and head of the Washington’s Sierra Club’s Marine Ecosystem Campaign, said “60 people showed up at hearings and got zero from their requests.”
Councilman Flemming pledged to get answers in the months ahead. “The industry has resources. We have our resources. This is our lobby. Use your elected officials. We are your employees. I hear lots of passion; lots of concern; and a lot of unanswered questions. Our commitment, we’ll do everything we can to get some answers,” he said.
At the crux of the matter is the health of the marine environment.
In an attempt to measure the impact of geoduck farming, former state representative Pat Lanz, established a scientific study project in 2007. That study, House Bill 2220 Geoduck Aquaculture Research Program, is written by McDonald and VanBlaricom.
The scientists responded to the Burley audience who challenged the narrow focus of the study, the bias of the study, and the influence of shellfish industry money on the study. The community center room went quiet when VanBlaricom said “Sean and I are marine ecologists. Our loyalty is to the data we collect not to scientists or citizens.”
Their study concentrated on infauna organisms. Clams, tubeworms, and burrowing crabs are infauna animals that live in the substratum of this body of water.
McDonald said the group of organisms they studied are at the base of the food web and really important.
“The study found the effects minor and temporary. The notion that this type of activity and harvesting kills everything is nonsense and a serious misrepresentation,” he said.
As for the question of who funded the study, VanBlaricom pointed to the Washington legislature and said they have “not received a penny from the shellfish industry.”
For every scientific question addressed, several new questions arose.
“A lot of this science is not going to fix the problem. After harvest, it’s not going to recover because the process starts over,” said Laura Hendricks, receiving applause from the audience.
Karen McDonell lives on the eastern shore of the Burley Lagoon. A cancer survivor, she considers her home a sanctuary for her good health. Her property is on the shoreline proposed for the 30 acre geoduck farm at Burley.
“It’s quiet waters. It’s a quiet lagoon. It’s a golden pond. Our golden pond has been electrified with this issue. We would like to achieve a prohibition of geoduck farms in a residential neighborhood. This isn’t going to be a situation with a win/win,” McDonell said.
Friends of Burley Lagoon chair, Heather MacFarlane, found the forum enlightening and invigorating and appreciated that Seaquist had arranged for the Sea Grant scientists to attend. Her concerns are: universal access to the tidelands; provision for a healthy diverse intertidal zone and avoidance of a monoculture; and the development of equitable taxation for upland properties and tidelands, she said.
According to MacFarlane, the Burley Lagoon community has worked together to upgrad their septic systems and take accountability.
“People here have made personal commitments. Those that live really close to the water have a big responsibility to share,” she said.
She feels the involvement with the Shoreline Master Program has strengthened the neighborhood relationships. “An extra special thing about this process is the outgrowth of a great sense of community,” MacFarlane said.