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Water | Environment

What's Wrong With Gov. Gregoire's Washington State Shellfish Initiative?

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire recently announced an initiative that puts over $4 million towards cleaning up the waters of Puget Sound. It promotes shellfish as a major part of the clean up effort. Ashley Ahearn turns to Laura Hendricks, head of the Sierra Club’s Marine Ecosystem Campaign in Washington, to get another perspective on the new initiative.

Ashley Ahearn: So Laura, what’s wrong with this initiative from your perspective?

Laura Hendricks: What’s wrong is you’re combining commercial aquaculture with other things that sound really good to the citizens and they’re not really being honest about the fact that this is a money maker deal. This is not about restoration or cleaning the water. If it was about restoration they would have some Olympia oysters put in and they wouldn’t be selling them, they’d just leave them there. Let them sit there and do the ecological balance and they’re native. But they don’t want to do that because Olympia oysters don’t make as much money.

Who wants to buy an oyster or a geoduck that has been out there and is full of contaminants? So on one hand they’re saying they’re doing this to clean the water but are you really going to eat nature’s cleaning service? I mean, is that what they’re going to do is turn around and sell it to you the next day after they’ve “cleaned” the water?

Ashley Ahearn: When you look at the economic downturn right now and the amount of jobs that are provided by the shellfish industry does that make you any more open to the potential that putting money into the shellfish industry right now is a good thing in terms of keeping that huge economic driver afloat?

Laura Hendricks: Well I think it’s a double-edged sword. Historically the shellfish industry, like a lot of industries, used to use a lot of manual labor so they had back, years and years ago, a lot of people out there picking oysters off the beach and that’s what people think of when they think of aquaculture and oysters. Nowadays they’re using less people. And so according to the Mason County Journal that ran an article in June 2010, Taylor Shellfish showed that they had 165 acres of geoduck farms and they employed 30 full time workers, which, if you do the math, is not very many people.

Ashley Ahearn: What would you like to see changed or added in this initiative that would make it satisfactory or even exciting to you?

Laura Hendricks: Well if we’re really after restoration then let’s do restoration. Let’s bring in the Olympia oyster, let’s put more money behind it and use that.

Ashley Ahearn: To be fair there is $200,000 towards promotion of the Olympia oyster.

Laura Hendricks: $200,000 is a couple of acres. I mean if you’re really trying to restore Puget Sound and you’re saying that you want more native species out there, the Olympia oyster is the native species. What commercial aquaculture, they’re growing the Pacific oyster, which is non-native and considered invasive. They’re also growing manila clams. They’re non-native. They’re considered invasive. So we really have to split the two. It’s like anything else. You cannot put in a bunch of new animals and expect the ones who live there to still exist, especially if you’re not giving them a fair fight. These guys have plastic tubes, plastic nets, canopy nets protecting them. The other species are being picked off, thrown away, eliminated, or their feeding’s being restricted. So who’s going to win that battle? The ones that you’re farming. And we can’t really say that any part of that initiative should go forward and we cannot let one corporation, their special interest and their need for making a lot more money over-ride the interest of everybody else and that’s what’s happening in this issue.

Laura Hendricks heads the Sierra Club’s Marine Ecosystem Campaign in Washington.

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