Friday, May 28, 2010

The Gooey Politics of Geoduck Aquaculture: Rulemaking

Above: Geoducks harvested from Eld Inlet this week.

By Janine Gates

In mid May, the Washington Department of Ecology released a pre-draft version of Shoreline Management Act rules relating to the siting and permitting of commercial geoduck aquaculture.

Geoduck aquaculture is farming on privately owned tidelands, where salt water tides ebb and flow, to cultivate large geoduck clams. They are considered a delicacy, particularly in Asia.

Ecology was directed to add language to Shoreline Master Program guidelines about commercial geoduck aquaculture under House Bill 2220, which passed in 2007.

There is a meeting on Wednesday, June 2 of the Shellfish Aquaculture Regulatory Committee (SARC) at the state Department of Ecology in Lacey from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. which will review the pre-draft rulemaking language.

The public is welcome to attend presentations and the SARC discussions, but public comment will not be taken. According to Cedar Bouta, Ecology’s project lead for the rulemaking, questions from the public will be taken after the close of the SARC meeting by Ecology staff. SARC members may or may not be in attendance during that time.

For about two hours, SARC members will hear the latest science from the University of Washington’s SeaGrant on geoduck research. Other topics will include permitting requirements and the rulemaking process.

Ecology expects to issue the draft rule on August 18, with a public comment period on the rule tentatively set for early September to mid-October. At that time, there will be four public hearings. Exact public comment dates and hearing locations will be announced when the draft rule is published.

According to Ecology, HB 2220 allows geoduck aquaculture to continue and expand based on current scientific understanding, provides for scientific research related to potential impacts of geoduck aquaculture, and applies what is learned as new science becomes available.

Ecology also took into consideration the work of the SARC, which met for two years from 2007 to 2009 and submitted a report to the Legislature in January 2009.

Above: PVC pipes that contain young geoduck. Shoreline homeowners, tribes, growers and environmentalists have long expressed concerns with geoduck farming related to aesthetics and view, noise, debris management, the use of artificial light from night operations, litter, navigation and access, and hours of operation. These factors, with ideas for possible guidelines, were included in the work of the SARC.

The most significant proposed change is the requirement of a conditional use permit for commercial aquaculture in critical saltwater habitats, renewable every five years.

“Conditional use permits are reviewed by Ecology and will provide an opportunity for state-level integration of current science, especially the results of SeaGrant’s research currently underway,” says Bouta.

Geoduck aquaculture is a water-dependent use and the early draft of the proposed rule includes language that directs local governments with intertidal habitat to inventory, identify and classify suitable areas for commercial geoduck aquaculture.

Over 250 towns, cities and counties are underway in their updates of their shoreline management programs.

“Ecology wants to minimize the burden this puts on local governments in the middle of updating their shoreline programs,” says Bouta. “When the rule changes take effect in mid-January, we’ll work closely with local governments on the day-to-day implementation of the rule, including guidance on commercial geoduck aquaculture best management practices.”

Thurston County is one of several counties with shellfish growing areas and operations, according to the state Department of Health.

Rule Language Concerns

Robin Downey, Pacific Shellfish Growers Association executive director, said her organization is still in the process of reviewing the rule. “We have some concerns, but we think Ecology has done a good job of involving stakeholders,” she said.

Several others have already reviewed the rule and are skeptical about the proposed language.

Laura Hendricks, a member of the SARC committee and chair of the Shorelines and Aquaculture Sub-committee for the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club says, “So far, Ecology has not said a word about industry destroying native species or the shellfish industry's new aquatic pest management strategic plan for bivalves in Oregon and Washington.”

The plan was produced by the shellfish industry as the first aquatic crop "pest" plan in the United States. The Sierra Club remains concerned that numerous citizens have witnessed native aquatic species being systematically removed or destroyed as “pests” and essential plant life being scraped off as "weeds.”

Hendricks says she has sent Ecology a list of 18 questions that she would like answered before she submits the Sierra Club's geoduck rulemaking comment letter.

“We are just finishing a draft fish habitat paper that includes documentation of the aquaculture impacts on fish and habitat, especially endangered salmon. This will be provided to Ecology with our final comments by June 5,” says Hendricks.

Curt Puddicombe, on behalf of the Case Inlet Shoreline Association and the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat, has also weighed in on Ecology’s pre-draft rule language. Case Inlet is the boundary between Pierce County and Mason County.

He says the draft overview lays the groundwork for changing certain language in the Shoreline Management Act (SMA) with several statements “that are misinterpretations and overstatements of HB 2220 and the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) guidelines.”

“HB 2220 only requires Ecology to develop guidelines with the advice of the SARC for the appropriate siting and operation of geoduck aquaculture to be included in local master programs. There is no implication or explicit language in the bill that geoduck aquaculture expansion must move forward,” says Puddicombe.

Puddicombe also challenges Ecology’s assertion that the SMP Guidelines are clear that commercial aquaculture is an important and economically valuable water-dependent use. “That’s hyperbole and follows a longstanding, institutional bias that Ecology traditionally has bestowed on the shellfish industry.”

Puddicombe also questions why the pre-draft language compels local governments to classify appropriate areas for commercial geoduck aquaculture.

“Why is Ecology mandating that Puget Sound counties set aside specific areas for geoduck aquaculture? What about counties such as Mason and Thurston that have already grandfathered in these sites? Will there be pressure on property owners to lease private tidelands specifically for geoduck aquaculture? What about private tideland owners that do not want to be a part of Ecology’s geoduck aquaculture reserves? Is there a way for property owners or a community to opt-out of Ecology’s geoduck aquaculture reserves?”

“What is clear is that the SMA and the guidelines did not intend for the shorelines of Puget Sound to be summarily handed over for the commercial production of geoducks to benefit a handful of private companies. What is also clear is that the vast majority of citizens that have been witnessing the largely unregulated expansion of geoduck aquaculture are opposed to it,” says Puddicombe.

For more information on attending the June 2 SARC meeting, contact Cedar Bouta, Washington State Department of Ecology, at or (360) 407-6406.

For more information about rulemaking, go to Ecology’s Rule website:

SARC Committee website (not updated) -

Historical meeting minutes and 2009 report to the legislature:
Research reports:

For more information about the Washington SeaGrant:

Sierra Club website aquaculture page at:

For more information about Case Inlet Shoreline Association and the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat go to:

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