We are a group of citizens opposed to the continued expansion of industrial geoduck aquaculture on the fragile tidelands of Puget Sound. The shellfish industry believes that all available tidelands should be used for the intensive production of shellfish, particularly, geoducks, to sell primarily to markets outside of the country. Please join with us to protect these sensitive wildlife areas in Puget Sound.

Please sign the Coalition Petition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat Petition to stop enabling plastic and pesticide pollution in Puget Sound.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

When Good Science Falls into Bad Company - Geoduck Aquaculture in Puget Sound

This is a story about how good science falls into bad company, and the potentially devastating impacts to Puget Sound

For many years the shellfish industry in Puget Sound has been claiming that the impacts of a geoduck farm are “temporary and reversible” in an attempt to convince everyone that there is really no problem with impacts to the environment, habitat and threatened species. Of course, anyone who actually observes these farms is outraged at this assertion. The installation of an industrial monoculture geoduck farm on natural tidelands kills the native clams, crabs, sand dollars and sea anemones, installs thousands of PVC tubes deep into the sand, and on harvest flushes the tidelands into the sound. The disruption of the natural environment is painfully obvious.

How can they claim that the effects of this are temporary and reversible? It seems absurd.

They get away with this by misusing and misinterpreting scientific studies in the hope that no one will notice. Let’s take a look at just one case:

In December of 2014 Changmook Sohn, a tideland owner, submitted an application for a geoduck farm under the name of a company that he owns. The permit was accompanied by a required Biological Evaluation prepared by ACERA, LLC. A small environmental consultancy that seems to specialize in this kind of thing. In the Biological Evaluation is this statement:

Recent research indicates that recovery of the epibenthic community from shellfish harvest may occur rapidly (Kaiser et al. 1998; Crawford et al. 2003; ) although the research is currently limited (USFWS 2009). It is anticipated that this level of benthic disturbance is consistent with the existing range of normal storm/wave activity (Dernie 2003).

Notice the reference to a scientific paper by Kaiser and others. At first blush you might assume that the study actually supports this claim. And you would be wrong. The study is behind a paywall, but I purchased a copy and took a read (see the reference below).

The Kaiser paper was not actually a research study, but a review of the existing scientific literature. The study looked at oyster, mussel, manila clam, and other shellfish farming activities, but did NOT review geoduck operations which are substantially different in their planting and harvesting activities. The study is not relevant to current geoduck farming techniques and the current geoduck farming techniques were not even in broad use at the time of the study!

This is the first clue that the wool is being pulled over your eyes.

Then as you read the study you learn that the scientists were concerned about invasive farming techniques that are similar to those used by geoduck farms today. For example, the Kaiser paper specifically warned about the dangers of intertidal disturbances. Rather than support the notion that the benthic environment recovers quickly, the study warns of prolonged and potentially dangerous impacts on the environment (emphasis added):

“Physical disturbance of intertidal sediments by invasive commercial bivalve harvesting activities is of concern to fisheries managers because of direct effects on populations of target species, causing non-catch mortality, and to nature conservationists because of the interference with the feeding behaviour of wading birds (Goss-Custard and Verboven 1993; Shepherd and Clark 1994), habitat degradation or the alteration of infaunal invertebrate community structure. “

“The environmental effects of harvesting natural populations of intertidal and shallow sublittoral bivalves has received considerable attention in the United Kingdom because of the scale and intensity of operation, particularly with respect to tractor and suction dredging intertidally for cockles (Franklin and Pickett 1978; Allen 1995; Cotter et al. 1997; Hall and Harding 1997).  It is surprising that the environmental effects of cultivated bivalve harvesting have been little studied to date, especially as clam beds can occupy large areas of the intertidal zone with individual commercial plots that usually measure 40 m² or greater. (Note that modern geoduck farms are typically 100 times larger than this and can be over 1,000 times larger.)”

“... although sediment structure and profile was restored 3 months after suction harvesting (Fig. 1), the benthic community was not fully restored until 9 to 12 months after harvesting occurred (Spencer et al. 1998). The immediate effects of suction dredging are, not surprisingly, quite severe, as the entire upper layers of the substratum and fauna are removed.”

Yes, the authors are concerned about the severe effects on the intertidal areas when the upper layers are removed - and this is exactly what happens during geoduck harvesting!

In summary:

  • The study was not about geoduck clams and farming methods.
  • The authors express concerns about disruptive farming activities in intertidal zones which is where geoducks are farmed.
  • The authors express concerns about dredging activities that disrupt the benthic environment and impacts on non-target species, birds, and overall habitat degradation.
  • The authors are concerned about the severe effects of the removal of the upper layers of the tidal areas, which is what happens with geoduck harvesting.

Nothing in this study points to the quick recovery and minimal impacts of this type of shellfish farming. If anything, the study warns us about the effects like those created by geoduck farming.

Is this intentional lying, sloppy work, or the result some other flawed process?

We don’t know. There is certainly a potential conflict of interest between the paid consultants who produce the Biological Evaluation and the larger public interest in preserving Puget Sound. This poor quality work would not pass the sniff test in a high school biology class. It is alarming that it is being used as the basis for making decisions about our Puget Sound marine environment which may have devastating effects in the future.

You might have noticed that ACERA also quoted a studies by Crawford and Dernie and a note from the US Fish and Wildlife service in 2009. We won’t go into the details here, but just note that the Crawford study was done in Tasmania, Australia and did not study geoduck farming. A review of Dernie raises the same concerns - we'll cover that later. And it is true that the US Fish and Wildlife Service noted the lack of information about long term impacts. So again, referencing this study and USFWS note are not comforting and do nothing to allay concerns about the environmental impacts.

Geoduck applications like this one by Changmook Sohn are reviewed by permit specialists at the local county level, by state agencies like the Department of Ecology and the Department of Natural Resources, and by federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers.

Given the potential impacts, doesn’t anyone actually read these studies?

What is needed is a full halt to all new geoduck aquaculture permits until we have enough evidence that they are safe. In spite of the bloviating by shellfish industry PR hacks and lobbyists, no such evidence exists, and a lot of warning bells are ringing.


“ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF BIVALVE MARICULTURE”, M.J. Kaiser, I. Laing, S.D. Utting and G.M. Burnell; The Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, Conwy Laboratory, Benarth Rd., Conwy, LL32 8UB, United Kingdom.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Geoduck mesh tubes made with HDPE - even more toxics in Puget Sound?

In their march for ever larger profits the geoduck shellfish industry wants to move from plastic PVC tubing to plastic black mesh tubing. Several tons per acre of PVC tubing was bad enough. The PVC manufacturing process and the recycling process produced extremely toxic by-products. And plastic PVC tubing was never intended for use in marine environments like Puget Sound. So there is no way of knowing how much toxic material has already been released from PVC pipe.

And the shellfish industry doesn’t seem to care. These are the same folks who thought bee-killing pesticides were fine to spray into Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

Now the shellfish industry wants to move to a different type of plastic mesh tubing made with High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) imported from China. They hope to reduce litter on the beaches and to make them less of an eyesore.


But is HDPE safe?

It turns out that the National Institutes for Health is concerned about HDPE and other plastics leaching Estrogenic Activators (EAs) into the food chain. These are the kinds of chemicals that have raised so much concern around BPA in plastics. With a geoduck farm using between 40,000 and 50,000 tubes per acre, we are talking about a serious amount of HDPE plastic in Puget Sound. Some of the proposed farms like the ones at Dungeness Spit and Burley Lagoon are around 25 acres or more. This means millions of tubes in repeating cycles of planting!

Not only did the NIH study show concerns about HDPE, there are two things that increase the release of Estrogenic Activators:


UV light

That’s right, salt water and sunlight. Sound like Puget Sound?

You can read the NIH study here:

Surely our state agencies will protect us from this potential chemical hazard, right? Don’t count on it. Our tone-deaf Department of Ecology was marching in lock-step with the industry around the bee-killing Imidacloprid insecticide. They still approve the use of the herbicide Imazamox in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor (enjoy those oysters, you shellfish gourmets!) They probably won’t put any attention on this issue and just rubber-stamp the approval. If ever there was a case of regulatory capture our Department of Ecology is it. A poster child for a Harvard Business review study!

The shellfish industry will march us all right over this cliff. HDPE plastics in Puget Sound - what’s one more toxic shock to a marine environment already in trouble? The shellfish industry pretends to be environmentally conscious, but that is just a slight-of-hand to distract you so they can get to those big profits.

There is nothing natural about a geoduck farm and they are a threat to the environment of Puget Sound.

Monday, August 10, 2015

“Puget Sound is trashed, and will be forever.” – So says a University of Washington scientist.

Dr. Alan Trimble is a University of Washington research biologist who works on shellfish issues in Puget Sound and coastal waters. He was commenting in a public venue about a permit controversy in Oysterville and made this comment in a part of his testimony:

“So, my two-cents-worth as a scientist is this: Puget Sound is trashed, and will be forever. So is Chesapeake Bay, so is Willapa Bay: if you look at it from the perspective of what it used to be, it is nothing like it used to be. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s almost nothing left of what it used to be, species-wise. It’s dominated by introduced species that we farm, trees that are planted at ridiculous densities to be harvested to make paper, and a few houses. It is nothing like it used to be. “

Wow, that’s pretty strong language.

When we fly into Seattle or pass by Puget Sound waters we don’t have the immediate experience that the place is “trashed”. But those of us who live on the water know exactly what Dr. Trimble means. The industrial aquaculture industry has upended the natural environment of Puget Sound shorelines and they are indeed “trashed”.

The latest controversy about the bee-killing Imidacloprid pesticide use in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor is just the tip of the iceberg. The shellfish industry is destroying the natural functions of the tidelands in Puget Sound to grow geoduck clams for export to an Asian luxury market.  And they are trashing Puget Sound as they go – disrupting natural species balances, destroying critical habitat for birds and other wildlife, and removing important recreational places that we all love.

How did this happen?

Well, it’s called corruption. It is not the illegal bribery type of corruption, but the legal process of political contributions, legislative strong-arming, paid science, well-healed PR firms that lobby at the local, state and federal levels, free shellfish dinners for environmental organizations, and a bevy of highly paid lawyers. The result is that our own Department of Ecology thought it was just fine to spray the pesticide Imidacloprodid into Willapa Bay until the chefs in Seattle heard about it. The shellfish industry still thinks it is a fine thing, and they are still pushing for it.  If you think that issue went away, you are sadly na├»ve. The Department of Ecology has NOT rescinded their permit to the shellfish industry to spray Imazamox (Raptor) on Willapa Bay.

What has happened in Totten Inlet is the future of Puget Sound. Non-native oysters and other non-native shellfish, proliferation of pest species like tunicates on the shellfish industry muscle rafts, 90+% of all tidelands in Totten Inlet filled with industrial geoducks, clams bags, oysters bags, rebar, thousands of PVC pipes in the tidelands, large canopy nets that trap eagles and preclude other species from their normal feeding ground, and an industry that is considering genetically modified geoducks to counter problems brought by climate change.

So, yes, Puget Sound has been trashed. That was a pretty accurate description of things as they are now. We may not see the more dramatic results of this for some time to come, but make no mistake that Dr. Trimble was not exaggerating.

If you want to see what a geoduck farm actually looks like, you will find some photos here:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Superior Court Judge Affirms Denial of Geoduck Farm Permit

4/5/2015, Young Bald Eagle on the log.

On 4/3/15 Judge Murphy of the Thurston County Superior Court confirmed the denial of a permit in the deTienne Case. The denial, according to our reading of the SHB decision, was largely due to the presence of eelgrass on the subtidal plot.

The photo, taken a few days ago, is of a young Bald Eagle sitting on the log on Mr. Sohn's tideland. This log is a favorite perch spot for both the Bald Eagles and the Great Blue Herons.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Court Date for Eelgrass in Puget Sound

Eelgrass In Zangle Cove, 2008

The Pierce County Detienne geoduck aquaculture farm permit was denied by the Shoreline Hearings Board. Tomorrow (4/3/15) the appeal to that ruling will be heard in Superior Court. This is an important case because it is about eelgrass.

There are two big pushes in Puget Sound: 1) restoration of Puget Sound including restoration of eelgrass, because eelgrass is a primary habitat for marine life, and 2) expansion of shellfish aquaculture with an emphasis on industrial geoduck aquaculture. Eelgrass has largely been "run out of town" by shoreline uses and especially by shoreline aquaculture. And if the industry defends itself saying that shoreline armoring has been the cause of all the problems, then they have to concede that they are dealing the death blow with geoduck aquaculture on the tidelands. There is virtually no eelgrass left in South Puget Sound, with the exception of Zangle Cove.

These two goals are on a collision course and the shellfish industry will do everything it can to get the legal system to acquiesce to its contentions about geoduck farming and eelgrass. Anybody with eyes to see knows that the facts speak for themselves--geoduck farming will severely stress eelgrass, if not eliminate it.