The rift between shellfish industry professionals and a group of Gig Harbor peninsula residents was on display this week as both sides testified about a long-awaited update to Pierce County’s shoreline plan.
The plan imposes regulations over more than 1,000 miles of waterfront and associated animal habitat.
It governs everything from docks to marinas and retaining walls to home construction on saltwater and freshwater shores spanning from the Nisqually Reach to the White River Basin.
The County Council approved the plan a year ago and sent it to the state Department of Ecology over the summer. The department is reviewing the document, which hasn’t seen a major update since it was created in 1974.
The public weighed in at a hearing Wednesday night, giving state staff members an earful.
“Pierce County went out of its way in the Shoreline Master Program before you right now to ban shellfish harvesting,” said Jesse DeNike, legal counsel for Taylor Shellfish, the largest producer of farmed shellfish in the United States.
On the other side, a group of Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula shoreline property owners begged Ecology Department officials to keep the restrictions.
They worry that geoduck farms will replace oyster and clam beds along the peninsula.
Speaking against the plan, DeNike contended it includes more regulations and requirements for aquaculture use of the saltwater shoreline than any other uses listed in the document.
He was joined by other shellfish industry professionals, including small-scale farmers, who testified against the plan.
“I can’t believe what was written. I find it offensive to think aquaculture is viewed so negatively,” said Jim Gibbons, founder and part owner of Seattle Shellfish, which operates two shellfish farms in Pierce County.
As written, the document makes it almost impossible to establish a shellfish farm in the county, the farmers said.
The County Council amended the plan after hearing from residents concerned about geoduck farming on the peninsula.
The result leaves the impression that the county’s intent is “to render existing farms nonconforming and phase them out,” and prevent new farms from coming in, DeNike said.
Shellfish farm proponents requested Ecology Department professionals remove the restrictions on aquaculture uses and align the document with state and federal requirements and best available science.
A group of Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula shoreline property owners begged Ecology Department officials to keep the restrictions. They worry that geoduck farms will replace oyster and clam beds along the peninsula.
A group of Burley Lagoon property owners cited concerns about the future of the 348-acre lagoon that historically has grown oysters.
Taylor Shellfish began harvesting about 70 acres in the lagoon in 2012 under a lease from Western Oyster Co. Taylor does not harvest geoducks there but has applied to Pierce County to establish a 25-acre geoduck farm in the lagoon.
Residents fear the impact farming techniques will have on their property and the shoreline.
“The industry wants to say these regulations are onerous,” said Anderson Island resident Jerry Johannes. “They’re very few, they’re very specific and they’re limited.”
Laura Hendricks, who represents the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound, was more direct.
“We are not going to be pushed around by this industry anymore,” she said. “We have had it. This is our county, this is our waters and they need to get regulated.”
Public can comment on the plan until April 29.
Ecology Department staff members will summarize comments received and send them to Pierce County for response before deciding whether to approve the document as submitted, require or request changes or deny the plan.
Comment on shoreline plan
The state Department of Ecology will accept public comment on the draft Pierce County Shoreline Management Program until 5 p.m. April 29.
Written comments and questions can be submitted to Kim Van Zwalenburg, Washington Department of Ecology, Southwest Region Office, PO Box 47775, Olympia, WA 98504-7775 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
View the plan at 1.usa.gov/1MEYhf1.