Our mission is to protect the habitat of Puget Sound tidelands from the underregulated expansion of new and intensive shellfish aquaculture methods. These methods were never anticipated when the Shoreline Management Act was passed. They are transforming the natural tideland ecosystems in Puget Sound and are resulting in a fractured shoreline habitat. In South Puget Sound much of this has been done with few if any meaningful shoreline permits and with limited public input. It is exactly what the Shoreline Management Act was intended to prevent.

Get involved and contact your elected officials to let them you do not support aquaculture's industrial transformation of Puget Sound's tidelands.

Governor Inslee:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fin Fish Net Pen Aquaculture: "A Handful of Gimme and a Mouthful of Much Obliged"

Salmon Net Pens
are not
Water Dependent

Upland fish farm facilities exist,
eliminating "water dependency."

Enclosed systems exist, eliminating
open nets and the spread of sea lice.
The Olympic Peninsula Environmental News questions what the Department of Ecology (DOE) has become, bringing in Fred Neil's song, "A Handful of Gimme," to describe the current challenge Jefferson County is going through in developing its Shoreline Master Program (SMP). [click here for entryComments on what role the local Shoreline Master Programs play are directed specifically at whether Jefferson County should be able to ban salmon net pens and whether the Department of Ecology should be able to say no you can't, despite Whatcom County being allowed to ban them in their SMP and despite the fact that salmon net pens are not water dependent.
Note: If you aren't patient and don't want to read the rest of this you can scroll to the end and hear Fred Neil's "A Handful of Gimme." 
HB1599: Banning Net Pens
In response to DOE telling this to Jefferson County, House Bill 1599 was brought before the Committee on Local Government. [click here for HB1599] It would have allowed local SMP's to ban fin fish aquaculture, something which is not water dependent. A hearing before the committee was held on February 15 with industry and DOE making presentations to the committee in an "executive session". No citizens were allowed to testify during the session, being told there would be "plenty of time" afterwards. They weren't told they would only be given 2 minutes each. [click here for a video of the committee hearing, starting at 20:59] Politics is messy.

Dan Swecker ,Washington Fish Growers Association

Executive Session Presentations - All with plenty of time.
Dan Swecker, Secretary Treasurer for the Washgington Fish Growers Association, began testimony complaining about the amount of time and money it took to apply for and receive a fish net pen permit, after which he was out of money. This was followed by his introducing  DOE's Brian Lynn and Laurie LeVander, as well as Kevin Bright with American Gold Seafood, owner of all the current saltwater net pens in Washington state.

SMP: An expression of a community's vision.
Brian Lynn with DOE began with the Shoreline Master Program's "expression of a community's vision for managing shorelines," developed within the framework of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA). With DOE's involvement a plan is developed and approved which is then defended, if need be, by DOE.
"It's about jobs and commerce." Really?
Brian Lynn, DOE
Is the SMA about jobs and commerce?
What the issue falls to is what "statewide interest" and "local interest" are, as the Shoreline Management Act's first priority is to "protect statewide interest over local interest." The first words from DOE's Mr. Lynn defining what "statewide interest" is were "it's about jobs and commerce." [click here for Mr. Lynn's "jobs and commerce" comment] It was not the preservation of the ecological system. It was not the prevention of the piecemeal development of the state's shoreline area. He did say it was important for people from the other side of the state to be able to come to the public waters to enjoy them. "Aquaculture" was then identified as an "activity of statewide interest."

Mr. Lynn then further sharpened the focus of DOE by defining "preferred uses," focusing on those things which are "unique to or dependent on the use of the state's shoreline." Again, the fragmentation of the state's shorelines are not mentioned. Pictures of industrial developments along Puget Sound's shorelines are shown as examples of what is "water dependent." Not shown are pictures of upland fin fish facilities currently being constructed and deployed which negates the fundamental premise for DOE to require Jefferson County

"Oops, we missed it."
Despite all of this, Mr. Lynn notes that Whatcom County's SMP was approved by DOE. Their SMP  banned net pens. DOE's response when Jefferson County also prohibited net pen aquaculture, "we just missed it." Nonetheless, they have allowed Whatcom County to retain the exclusion and Jefferson County cannot. Jefferson County has chosen to tell DOE it is not in the statewide interest to put Washington's marine waters and native salmon at risk by approving net pens. DOE will not accept that position.

Lori Levander, DOE
Waste Discharge Permits

NPDES - Waste discharges
Mr. Lynn was followed by Ms. LeVander's discussion on how DOE relied on information from the 1980's to issue 12 permits in 1996. Those permits were appealed with the Pollution Control Hearing Board finally issuing a decision which approved the permit, with specific conditions. Ms. LeVander then provided a long list of agencies who have various roles to play, most inconsequential in the broader protection of native species and Puget Sound, and unrelated to whether Jefferson County should have the right to ban fish fin pens, whether state wide or local in interest.

Ms. LeVander also provided the committee with a brief discussion on what DOE is doing now for fish pens. This includes requiring a "Pollution Prevention Plan," a "Fish Release Prevention Plan," an "Accidental Fish Release Response Plan," and a "Closure Monitoring Plan." Similar to what was supposed to prevent the BP crisis in the Gulf of Mexico (didn't they have a plan?). Except this is Puget Sound which DOE is supposed to be protecting, a vastly different body of water, far more enclosed and far more sensitive to impacts from industrial "mistakes." What Ms. LeVander provides as comforting advice is simply a long list of things to be monitored and reports which are required to be submitted.

Fish Net Pen Wrecked
"It's ok. The fish are marked."

"Don't worry, we have emergency cut-off valves."
When asked what would happen when fish escaped, her response was "the fish are marked" and they "aren't like a bunch of cattle" waiting for the gate to be open. They can be "tracked" and they'll just hang around the pens, easily caught.  Industry's response, "oh we can have gill netters come in and catch them." No doubt the gill netters will happily sort through the native and farmed fish to ensure the former are returned to the waters. If they can find them.

Ms. LeVander ends with stating Sea Lice are not really a problem in Puget Sound due to salinity being so much lower.  While Oakland Bay certainly has lower levels of salinity than waters found in Canada, the primary body of Puget Sound is not significantly different, ranging from 28 to 31. As Commissioner Johnson pointed out, the water along the southern part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca is unlikely to be much different than the Canadian side. (The Aegeus buoy off of Sequim notes salinity of 31.1 PSU with Port Angeles' buoy shows 31 PSU - little different than oceanic readings. [click here for NANOOS interactive map]
(Note: This writer has caught many cutthroat and salmon in south Puget Sound with Sea Lice.)
Kevin Bright, American Gold Seafood
Net pens create "a reef effect". Must be good then.

"Wow, look, it's a reef!"
Kevin Bright with American Gold Seafood (owned by Icicle) then spoke, describing how moved he was to be walking on the walkways of pens, looking at the fish in the pens, the structures providing "a reef effect." Not quite, but if that's a good public relations description it's understandable, as is his focus on "local rural economies, taxes, jobs," and so on. All he wants is a "fair shake" and feels a Conditional Use Permit along with all others should guarantee safe operations. After which DNR negotiations will begin for a lease of the public waters these pens are sited in, bringing back to the forefront the question of "statewide" versus "local" interests. Based on financial returns from leases DNR has with others it's neither in the local or the state's interest to do this. It's certainly in industry's interest to get a cheap ride through the use of the state's "most valuable and fragile of its natural resources" (SMA).

"It's science - if you can find it."
Where is that Biological Evaluation noted?

It's science, not politics driving the decision.
The important point made by Mr. Bright is that the Shoreline Management Act should be driven by science, not politics. The most recent science he brings up? A December 13, 2010 EPA/NMFS bilogical evaluation. (Note: Searching for the referenced document finds nothing so it can't be commented on.) More recently, science is showing there is an impact and it is not healthy for native species. Finally, as noted earlier, while the SMA states "Aquaculture is a preferred water dependent use" it also notes it is only so if it cannot be sited on land. These farms clearly can be. Of course it costs more, but what is the cost to the public of its impacting the state's most valuable resource, its marine waters?

Representative Van De Wege

Local control is important, but where is the line?
Representative VanDeWege spoke next, stressing the control which local government should have. A question asked was whether it was about net pens or local control, to which he responded it was about local control. The focus from questions then turned to just how much local control there should be, with the example of buffers being brought up. It was not clear where a line should be, or could be, drawn.

Shoreline Management Act: Does it protect business or the shoreline?
Testimony from businesses showed they were concerned the SMA was being "turned on its head." In fact, it has been turned on its head. It is now being used to promote businesses within the waters and upon the she shorelines, by claiming it is "water dependent." When in fact, fish fin farming is not water dependent.

Jefferson County Commissioners Johnson and Sullivan

Local planning supported by the association of counties.
Jefferson County Commissioners clearly feel put under by DOE's attitude. There are contained systems which clearly move this beyond being water dependent. While Conditional Use Permits provide much review, the precautionary principle is the far more preferred alternative. Virus have caused millions of salmon in pens having to be destroyed. Millions of fish have escaped pens in British Columbia. Sea Lice are clearly able to live in much of Puget Sound, most certainly in the northern part.
Katelyn Kinn, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance

Protecting Waters for Everyone
Perhaps the most compelling presentation was from Katelyn Kinn with the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. The litany of known and growing impacts from net pens were listed, including virus, waste discharge, and fish escapement. This was followed by Mr. Wishart again pointing out that fish fin net pens are not water dependent, evidenced by the large number of upland facilities which currently exist.
Handful of Gimme and a Mouthful of Much Obliged

Fred Neil, "Hand Full of Gimme"

Jefferson County should be commended for their stand. They should be supported in their telling the Department of Ecology that the Shoreline Managment Act is in place to protect Puget Sound's marine waters for everyone, whether interests are local or state widw. The SMA should not be allowed be bent by industries whose methods are far from being "preferred" and "water dependent." If DOE cannot do it then the local governments and citizens must.

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