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:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Drakes Bay: Industrial Shellfish Farming in Wilderness Areas Should Stop

In 2005 a non-conforming shellfish farm located within Drakes Estero, California was purchased with full knowledge the right-of-use-and-occupancy authorization expired in 2012.  Drakes Estero would then be returned to a wilderness area as Congress had intended when it passed the Point Reyes National Seashore Wilderness Act of 1976.  Plastic bags and artificial structures with associated harvesting equipment and upland buildings would no longer be part of the designated wilderness area. In their place would be natural oyster reefs filtering the waters, providing permanent habitat for other species.  An area used for centuries by the Coast Miwok Indians and discovered by Sir Francis Drake in the 1500's would return to its natural state.

(photo by Robert Campbell)

This is wilderness?

When the Lunny family asked the Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) superintendent what he thought about their purchasing the farm, his answer was quite clear:   "I really don’t think that’s a very good idea. You know they have permit and environmental problems."  Despite this sage advice the Lunny's purchased the farm in 2005 based on their belief a profit could be made by 2012 when the permit expired.  It was a bad business decision.

The Lunny family and public relations friend Sam Singer (click here), with help from the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association and the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, are trying to frame the issue as the Lunny's being picked on by the National Park Service with catastrophic results if shellfish are no longer present to filter water.  It is a classic attempt to deflect the focus from the real issues, which are the Lunny's made a bad business decision and that natural shellfish reefs provide more habitat and filtering functions than an industrial farm does. (Read the US Fish and Wildlife's Bilogical Opinion on shellfish farming here. Searching for "Dumbauld" will provide ample evidence of the negatives of industrial farming vs. natural reefs.)

Why should this matter? If the Lunny's farm is allowed to continue beyond the expiration date other designated wilderness areas will be put at risk of being converted to industrial shellfish operations or other industrial activities (e.g., clear cutting in a wilderness area or placer mining in a wilderness river).  These operations do alter the habitat and species makeup of the natural ecosystems they impact and replace.  Harvesting destroys whatever habitat may have been created.  It is not what Congress intended the definition of "wilderness" to become.

A wilderness area is not meant to be a factory or an aquarium.  It is meant to preserve, or provide nature the opportunity to recreate, what once was for our future.  It is the difference in philosophy between John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pacific Oysters: Canary in the coal mine or a Chiuahuah in the Arctic?

The Pacific oyster's apparent inability to handle changes in the northwest's marine environment has been called a "canary in the coal mine." Environmental changes this species has difficulty with include an increase in a bacteria named Vibrio tubiashii and a decrease in the pH levels of the marine waters (aka "Ocean Acidification") from increasing CO2 levels.  Both cause problems with the Pacific oyster's ability to form a shell at the larval stage.  It has been assumed by the shellfish industry this is also why there have been no natural sets of Pacific oysters in Willapa Bay and why hatchery production dropped to near zero a few years ago.

With federal tax dollars, the hatcheries have installed various filters and ultraviolet systems to help contain Vibrio tubiashii.  Federal funds have also been used to purchase pH monitoring equipment for the hatcheries which has allowed water with a higher pH from various depths, at certain times of the day, to be drawn in.  Both have helped increase the production of Pacific oyster seed. 

Left open is whether forcing an oyster adapted to the warmer waters of Japan to survive in the colder northwest waters is analogous to raising a Chiuahua in the Arctic. Since the introduction of the Pacific oyster it has been known to have difficulties surviving the critical larval stage in the cooler northwest waters.  It was why seed had to be imported from Japan.  Wild sets in Willapa Bay occurred primarily due to its warming during the summer months, but even that was variable.  It is what drove the development of the hatchery industry in the northwest which created the artificial environment the Pacific oyster seed could survive in and then be used for transplanting. 

Layered on top of this is the development of genetically modified "triploid" Pacific oysters.  Forcing an extra set of genes into the Pacific oyster prevented its becoming "fertile" during the summer months (i.e., they are sterile).  This prevented the "plumpness" from the summer months' breeding most people find unpalatable.  The downside to this is a species less able to adapt to changes in the marine environment (i.e., being sterile, there are no progeny produced to survive and adapt to the changing environment).

A recent abstract from a 2011 Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association in Salem, OR  found that in waters with CO2 levels of the future, native Geoduck's larvae survived at higher levels than at current CO2 levels (read abstract from UW here).  Is the Pacific oyster really a canary in the coal mine, or simply a species being forced to grow in an environment it was not adapted to, like a Chiuahuah in the Arctic?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Imazamox, Eel Grass and CO2/Ocean Acidification in Willapa Bay

Ecology is beginning the permit process which would allow imazamox to be applied to eel grass in Willapa Bay while at the same time it is being told by scientists on the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification that aquatic vegetation will modulate the local response to increasing CO2 levels and ocean acidification. (see the May 23 powerpoint presentations here)

For an article on the importance of seagrass' ability to remove and store carbon, read: Seagrass stores more carbon than forests
(for the abstract from the May 20, 2012 magazine, Nature Geoscience, click here)

Healthy Thalassia sea grass bed, main source of food for manatees in Florida

Of all the marine bodies in Washington, Willapa Bay has been impacted the most by the effects of increasing CO2 and resultant "ocean acidification."  Natural sets of oysters are not occurring and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been used to install filters and monitors in hatcheries elsewhere in order to overcome the growing problem increasing CO2 and ocean acidification has created in order to replace the non-occurring natural sets. 

At today's Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification one of the scientific presentations was entitled "Ocean Acidification in Washington - Science White Paper."  The "white paper" is intended to accomplish two things for the panel:
1. Serve as the basis for the Panel’s Research & Monitoring recommendations; and,
2. Inform the Panel's Policy recommendations. 

In chapter 6, Habitats and Ecosystems, it notes that recent research suggests aquatic vegetation could help modulate the local response to CO2 and ocean acidification.  Yet at the same time Ecology is now proposing eradication of eel grass in Willapa Bay on commercial shellfish farms through the application of imazamox. (click here for current imazamox proposal)

A recent quote comes to mind:  "...the more man interferes with nature the greater become the problems he creates." (Maurice Yonge, Oysters, 1960 p. 189).  Wondering whether science or profits is behind the decisions being made also comes to mind.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 23, Ocean Acidification Blue Ribbon Panel Meeting

The Ocean Acidification Blue Ribbon Panel will hold its 3rd meeting on May 23 from 9AM to 3:30PM. Public comments will be taken between 3:15 and 3:30.


University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture – NHS Hall
3501 NE 41st Street, Seattle (click here for directions)
Public participation is also available online by Webinar
click here for registration)

Topics currently on the agenda include the public relations function of how to communicate what it is the panel decides may be effective in addressing the drivers (causes) of ocean acidifiction. Carbon dioxide output is currently believed to be the primary cause. In 2008 China was producing more than any other country (6,534 million metric tons) followed by the United States (5,833 million metric tons).  Whether closing Bucoda's coal fired power plant would be meaningful and the importance of eel grass in removing carbon dioxide are some examples of what is being discussed.  Whether current monitoring is capable of providing meaningful information, and if not what more would be needed, is also an important topic on the agenda.  (
click here to read the meeting agenda)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Update on Agency Responsibility for Penn Cove Oil Spill

Adding to the question of what agency should have known over 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel were on board the derelict vessel Deep Sea which sank in Penn Cove May 13, KUOW has reported the Coast Guard inspected the ship in January. At that time the Coast Guard reported to the owner only 50 to 100 gallons of diesel fuel was on board. (see KUOW article here) (hear environmental reporter Ashley Ahern interviewed here).   

As of last weekend an estimated 5,200 gallons have been recovered - 3,200 directly and 2,000 skimmed from the surface.

Would the current owner have been more diligent had the Port of Seattle (who sold it in December of 2011), DNR (who oversees the derelict vessel program), or the Coast Guard (who inspected it in January), accurately reported how much fuel was on board?  Does responsibility track further back to the owner prior to the Port of Seattle taking possession?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Taylor Shellfish Mussel Farm Decision Extended to June 14

The Thurston County Hearing Examiner has asked that the permit decision date on Taylor Shellfish's proposed mussel farm in Totten Inlet be extended until June 14.  The complexities and volume of information clearly support the request.  All parties have agreed to the extension.  Some of what follows is being considered.  (see here for testimony and evidence presented)

Will the placement, ongoing maintenance, and operation of a 58 raft mussel farm at the mouth of Totten Inlet degrade Totten Inlet's habitat?  Evidence presented at the hearing clearly indicates dissolved oxygen levels are diminished significantly in an area where geoduck tracts are in recovery, salmon migrate, and Herring spawn.  Evidence presented at the hearing clearly indicate shell deposition and feces/pseudo feces transform the subtidal area below the estimated 11 acre area.  Evidence presented at the hearing clearly show ongoing maintenance of rafts and the farm operation on the shoreline creates a disturbance which would increase dramatically, adjacent to 34 acres purchased by the Capitol Land Trust (part of which is a pocket estuary with critical salmon habitat) and heavily developed residential areas.  Evidence presented at the hearing clearly show the risk of spreading non-native invasive tunicates is increased significantly through the operation of this farm.

Evidence presented to counter these and other impacts created by this farm are weak and hardly meet the burden of proof required.  Claims of "habitat creation" ignore the fact that this artificially created habitat is destroyed every time harvesting occurs and that this "habitat" is made up on non-native mussels and artificial structures.  Claims of "significant nitrogen removal" do not include nitrogen from marine sources (i.e., deep sea upwelling) nor amounts from benthic flux in the totals, making the percentage removed appear far greater than it in fact is (as Taylor's scientist testified, the formula is "not as useful" without those numbers).  Claims that shellfish farming is "water dependent" are diluted when considering the fact that mussel farming on an industrial scale of this size was never considered when the Shoreline Management Act was written.  Claims that 58 rafts sitting "only 1 foot high" diminish the visual impact of the placement area may be true if one looks from the level of a seal, but every other view point is significantly impacted.  Claims that NOAA's NMFS Biological Opinion support mussel farming neglected to point out the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Bilogical Opinion was considered "extremely problematic" by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Grower's Association and not mentioned.

Taylor Shellfish provided huge volumes of information to create the impression the proposed mussel farm is benign and should be permitted.  All of this information needs to be considered, along with that presented by those opposed to the permit being issued.  In the end, it will be clear that the best science money can buy does not provide the burden of proof required to issue this permit.

DNR, the Port of Seattle, and the Deep Sea Sinking in Penn Cove

The ecological, economic and recreational impacts from the sinking of the 128' derelict vessel Deep Sea in Penn Cove are significant.  Species resident and migratory to Penn Cove have been impacted.  All shellfish operations in Penn Cove have been closed by the Department of Health. Recreational harvesting of shellfish and enjoyment of the water has been curtailed.

Could DNR have prevented this from happening?  It is unlikely given how restrictive state laws are (see RCW 79.100.040).  Added to the complexity is the Port of Seattle having been the initial lead agency overseeing Deep Sea's sale and removal from Fisherman's Wharf.

The risks of not acting on removal of derelict vessels in a timely manner are clearly defined in the Derelict Vessel Removal Program brochure (see brochure here).  The reality of not acting in a timely manner is now unfolding in Penn Cove.

To help prevent another similar event there are important questions which DNR's Aquatics Division and the Port of Seattle should be asked:

1. DNR's December 7, 2011 "Vessels Not Yet Completed" report, generated by the Derelict Vessel Removal Program notes, on page 8, the Port of Seattle being the entity working on removing the Deep Sea from Fisherman's Terminal (see here for report).  If it was already known the Deep Sea was derelict and a risk to Puget Sound's waters, should closer tracking of where this vessel went been triggered? Articles imply DNR was contacted by Penn Cove Shellfish about where the Deep Sea was anchored, not that DNR or the Port of Seattle was following where the ship went.

2.  DNR's March 5, 2012 "Vessels Removed by Authorized Entities" report notes, on page 15, the Deep Sea as being a derelict vessel removed by the Port of Seattle, yet it still notes the "general location" as being the Fisherman's Terminal  (see here for report). If it was already known this was a derelict vessel, and if DNR had been working diligently since January to remove it from Penn Cove, why was its location noted as still being at Fisherman's Wharf and not at Penn Cove?  (see here for DNR's press release on actions it had been taking)

3.  The Deep Sea was initially reported by the owner to have "50 to 100 gallons" of fuel on board.  Instead, over 3,000 gallons have been reported removed or leaked, with an unknown amount remaining.  Should determining the amount of fuel a derelict vessel contains when it is declared a derelict vessel be part of the process?

4.  Related to #3, the Port of Seattle had been the owner of the Deep Sea since 2010.  In 2012 it sold the Deep Sea to the current owner for $2,500 as "scrap" after failing to sell it at auction.  Was the Port of Seattle aware of what appears to be over $10,000 in fuel on board when it posted the ship for sale on Craigslist?  Would the current owner have been more diligent if he had known the potential risk?

5.  There is continued fog obscuring what, beyond fuel, is on board the ship.  Was it old enough to have asbestos used for insulation?  Were there secondary storage compartments containing other fuels divers are currently unaware of?  Is there a risk of lead paint leaching into the water of Penn Cove?  Whether DNR, the Port of Seattle or the current owner should know these answers will help determine how to respond if a similar sinking occurs in the future.

Ecological events are unfortunate and, in most cases preventable.  How significant this event is remains to be seen.  What should happen now is to learn from it in order to prevent a repeat in the future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Penn Cove Mussel Farm At Risk, DNR Unable to Act Forcibly

[Update:  DOH has closed Penn Cove to commercial and recreational shellfish harvesting.]

It was discovered there was far more fuel on board the vessel which caught fire and sunk over the weekend in Penn Cove than initially reported.  KOMO reported today over 1,900 gallons had been pumped out, in addition to the 2 gallons per minute which had been leaking since Sunday's sinking. (click here for KOMO report from 5/15)

It is unknown how much more fuel remains and how much of what leaked has drifted where with deeper currents in Penn Cove.  What else was onboard the vessel currently leaching into the waters is also unknown.  Its proximity to Penn Cove Shellfish's mussel farm puts its ongoing operation at risk.

Burning Vessel on Sunday
(from KOMO)
1,900 gallons of diesel pumped from sunken boat near shellfish farm

Penn Cove Shellfish has been shut down since Sunday. When operations will resume and how the Department of Health will determine whether mussels are safe for consumption is unknown.  DNR has said it will raise the vessel, at taxpayer expense, and remove it (see South Whidbey Record article from 5/15 here).

According to KOMO, DNR had known about the illegally anchored ship for over 5 months but was unable to do anything beyond fines and letters.  As reported, boats and barges are allowed to anchor for 30 days without any permits, after which they must move or get a permit from DNR.  In Zangle Cove and elsewhere in south Puget Sound, the long term anchoring of shellfish barges and boats has been an ongoing issue for years between shoreline owners and shellfish operators, with DNR being unwilling or unable to act when appropriate (see August 18, 2010 posting on this blog).  DNR now understands far better the concerns people have.  Perhaps the legislature will now provide funding for enforcement of this law.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Penn Cove Mussel Farm Operations Suspended

A 128 foot derelict vessel anchored in Penn Cove caught fire and sank over the weekend.  Pollutants contained in the vessel include diesel fuel to possible asbestos, and have caused operations at the Penn Cove mussel farm to be suspended. At risk is an annual harvest of over 1.5 million pounds of mussels.  Whether this will be a short term or long term problem for all of Penn Cove's habitat and species is unknown.

Penn Cove Mussel Farm

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

April 25th Blue Ribbon Panel Meeting: The Million Dollar Questions

(Or why driving a car fast at night with the lights off may not be a good idea.)

Washington State's Blue Ribbon Panel on ocean acidification met on April 25th and has had powerpoint slides and verbal presentations posted to YouTube. (click here)

As the meeting unfolded it became clear these questions were important to answer (not necessarily in this order):

1.  How did molluscs survive during the last rapid rate of change in pH levels 300 million years ago and how have they survived in estuaries all these years when they encounter freshwater systems with an average pH of 7?  As noted in the first Blue Ribbon Panel meeting, not all shellfish react adversely to ocean acidification.  Currently, the non-native Pacific oyster from Japan is the primary species bred in the hatcheries which are not adapting to lowering pH levels.  Added to this is genetic manipulation creating triploid/tetraploid Pacific oysters which are even more specialized to their environment, less able to adapt to changes.  Native Olympia oysters and even geoduck appear to be far less susceptible to the changes in pH levels, most likely through natural selection from past ocean upwellings in Puget Sound.

2.  What are the drivers (sources) of ocean acidification and of those what can effectively be addressed?  Unless this question is answered based on accurate information the returns from regulations created and/or enforced may have unintended environmental and economic consequences.  As noted in the presentation, current monitoring is not accurate enough to show what level of impact the upwelling of deep sea water is having on pH levels in Puget Sound and Willapa Bay.  Few dispute there is a problem, but what additional impact power generating plants in Washington using coal or what additional impact nitrogen from waste water treatment plants plays is simply unknown.  Acting on the unknown is like driving your car at night with the headlights off on a country road.

3.  What industry other than the shellfish industry is going to be impacted by lowering pH levels?  The Blue Ribbon Panel was created because the shellfish industry found itself with a species unable to survive the hatchery environment and which was not naturally setting in Willapa Bay.  Whether any other industries are impacted by ocean acidification is important to know, whether it be directly through ocean acidification or indirectly through regulations implemented for the benefit of the shellfish industry.

Ocean acidification is a real problem.  The Blue Ribbon Panel's recommendations on source reduction, remediation and adaptation needs to be made with accurate monitoring and a clear understanding of the problem, perhaps noting this quote from Sir Maurice Yonge (1899-1986), a distinguished marine zoologist of his day on the future of oyster culture: “...the more man interferes with nature the greater become the problems he creates." (Oysters, 1960 p. 189). 

Driving a car in the dark without the lights on creates problems in decision making.  Driving it faster to meet an artificial deadline created by Governor Gregoire's leaving office only increases the risk of a poor decision leading in turn to a bigger problem.  The Blue Ribbon Panel should not be rushed into making recommendations without accurate information, something which may take more than three months to gather. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ocean Acidification: A Global Problem

In 2009 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a 21 minute video on ocean acidification which was recently reposted in a shortened 12 minute version.

(NRDC video on ocean acidification)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Diversity of Species in Puget Sound

Puget Sound's intertidal and subtidal habitats support an incredible diversity of species, seen in the galleries of pictures taken by diver Rich Zade here: 

All of these species have evolved and adapted over thousands of years to become part of an ecosystem unique to Washington State. It is not an aquarium but a living and breathing natural system which is under immense pressure.  How regulatory oversight evolves today will determine what type of environment these species will have to adapt to in the future - if they can.  Economic return should not drive how these regulations evolve.

Under The Sound home page is here: http://underthesound.smugmug.com/