The Key Peninsula Civic Center in Vaughn was the site of the latest battle in the ongoing regional aquaculture war. (See our story on page A1.)
Thursday night’s skirmish before the Key Peninsula Advisory Commission over a proposed geoduck farm on just more than 10 acres of private land on Henderson Bay was a microcosm of the contentious issue.
In one corner are proponents of the management of shellfish aquaculture on the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas. John Lentz, who owns Olympia-based Chelsea Farms and is a co-applicant in the proposed geoduck farm that was the subject of Thursday’s public meeting, has in the past called arguments against shellfish farming overblown. The company farms geoducks in Thurston and Mason counties, where neighbors welcome the farms, he said.
Similar sentiments have come from Taylor Shellfish Farms of Shelton, which has claimed that growing shellfish helps the environment. Last year, Taylor Shellfish took over 300 acres of commercial property at the Western Oyster Company at Burley Lagoon with plans to apply to Pierce County to farm geoducks on a small portion of the land — up to 30 acres.
In both cases, those in favor of shellfish farming have produced environmental studies they claim back up their contention that their operations will not harm the environment.
A Sept. 21 meeting of Friends of Burley Lagoon saw University of Washington Sea Grant scientists Dr. Glenn VanBlaricom and Dr. P. Sean McDonald highlight a study they said finds the environmental effects of shellfish farming minor and temporary. The scientists were critical of the notion that such activity and harvesting kills everything in the area. Similarly, a report from Environ presented during Thursday’s meeting concluded that the proposed geoduck farm on Henderson Bay would have little negative impacts.
The economics of shellfish farming — particularly geoducks — is a factor. Geoducks are especially prized in Asia, where the large molluscs can earn top dollar. That financial incentive wasn’t lost last week on opponents of the proposed geoduck farm.
Many residents who have property that would be affected by proposed shellfish farming operations call the supporting science incomplete at best. Especially when it comes to large-scale geoduck farming, they cite aesthetic and environmental concerns, as well as possible effects on their property taxes.
Furthermore, they claim the farms — particularly those that grow geoducks — are squeezing out other marine creatures, damaging tidelands and turning the area’s best beaches into industrial sites.
Any sort of solution will require an approach that is balanced between the rights of area property owners and the shellfish industry. At least one legislator is attempting to come up with such a solution.
State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, is working on aquaculture legislation. House Bill 1894 would recharter research on the issue to make it broader and deeper in order to provide more in-depth information to residents and to set up a public outreach center that would serve as a central clearing house for compliance concerns, Seaquist said.
Still, some remain unconvinced.
Laura Hendricks, speaking for the Coalition To Protect Puget Sound Habitat, said: “House Bill 1894 rewards the shellfish industry with taxpayer money by funding SeaGrant to further promote industrial aquaculture expansion and more studies that favor industry. Citizens are already faced with the SeaGrant study main researcher testifying against citizens in regulatory hearings and forced to file public records requests to receive SeaGrant study information, while industry representatives have an open door.”
Seaquist rejects that notion.
“That is simply not true,” he said. “I am personally, deeply concerned about this industry. It’s an important part of our economy. But we need to keep the Sound healthy. My No. 1 constituent in all of this, frankly, is the Sound.”