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« เมื่อ: มีนาคม 09, 2007, 10:50:19 AM »

Source: The Olympian  World News    8/03/2007 11:38:08



John Dodge
The commercial shellfish industry has more than a passing interest in the nitrogen and other nutrients entering South Sound.

 

As evidence mounts that increased nitrogen in the water from septic systems, stormwater runoff, lawn fertilizers and the like feeds algal blooms that, in turn, die and rob the water of oxygen, South Sound shellfish growers say they’re feeling pinched in several ways.

 

South Sound is home to roughly half of the state’s $100 million-a-year shellfish harvest. But it’s also home to a summer die-off of oysters in recent years that has reached 50 percent to 60 percent in some growing areas, including Eld Inlet.

 

A spike in the level of nutrients in South Sound appears to contribute to the summer mortality, stressing the oysters with too much food to eat at the same time they’re trying to reproduce, said Joth Davis, lead shellfish nutrition and genetics researcher for Taylor Shellfish, based in Mason County.

 

The increased algal blooms in the late summer also smother and suffocate clams, oysters and eelgrass growing in the intertidal zone, he said.

 

In some areas of South Sound, concerns over nutrient loading are more serious than the shellfish industry’s better-known, longstanding battle with bacterial contamination from failing septic tanks, stormwater runoff and animal wastes, Taylor Shellfish spokesman Bill Dewey said.

 

“Fecal coliform doesn’t kill the shellfish, and the sources of contamination can be corrected,” he said. “That hasn’t been the case with nutrients.”

 

As filter feeders, oysters, mussels and most clams capture and eat plankton and other particles suspended in the water. Historically, shellfish have been viewed as part of the nutrient pollution solution.

 

“Shellfish perform functions in the coastal ecosystem similar to the role that kidneys play helping to filter and regulate the flow of blood in the human body,” according to a 2003 paper on shellfish ecology prepared by the Puget Sound Action Team.

 

But a number of waterfront property owners living close to South Sound shellfish-growing operations are singing a different tune, suggesting aquaculture contributes to the nutrient problem, and disrupts the marine ecosystem.

 

Taylor Shellfish, the largest shellfish farming company on the West Coast, is no stranger to conflicts over its operations. In Totten Inlet, the company is embroiled in an 11-year battle with a group of shoreline property owners called the Association to Protect Hammersley, Eld and Totten Inlets, which contests company plans to add 58 mussel rafts to the 21 the company has had in Totten Inlet since 1993.

 

The shoreline critics of the project allege that expansion of nonnative mussels in Totten Inlet could gobble up food critical to other marine life and add nutrients to the water via waste expelled by mussels.

 

“Too much shellfish poop leaves too much nitrogen in the water, producing way too much phytoplankton for the bivalves to ingest,” APHETI member Anita Woodnut suggested in an e-mail to The Olympian. “By allowing such intensive, excessive shellfish production, with terribly degrading planting and harvesting techniques, the environment is sure to lose, and so will the people of this state.”

 

APHETI points to other marine areas in the world, including Hiroshima Bay in Japan, where the scale of oyster-growing overwhelmed the carrying capacity of the water body.

 

That level of shellfish production isn’t happening in South Sound, or anywhere else in the United States, said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

 

“Shellfish definitely produce pseudo feces,” Smith said. “But you’re always going to be on the positive side of the nutrient budget with shellfish in South Sound, as long as you harvest them.”

 

Taylor Shellfish expects to complete an environmental impact statement late this year that should answer questions raised by APHETI about the effects expanded mussel rafts would have on the Totten Inlet nutrient budget and marine environment, project manager Diane Cooper said.

 

“We need to answer the questions scientifically, not anecdotally,” she said. “Everybody agrees we need more research.”

 

More critics

 

The nutrient debate is just one of the assaults on an industry that views itself as a bridge between water quality and the economy.

 

The rapid growth of intertidal geoduck farms in South Sound has spawned another set of critics. They say the farms should be required to secure shoreline development permits from local governments and undergo environmental and public review.

 

The farms include thousands of plastic tubes embedded in the tideflats and covered with nets to contain the baby clams, leading to litter and visual eyesores. In addition, the intensive farming and harvesting with high pressure water hoses temporarily turns the beaches into a soupy mess, critics say.

 

The industry conceded that the tubes and nets can be unsightly but has not found a good alternative to get the baby clams started growing. Growers say the beach heals quickly after the harvest.

 

Even the environmental community, a longtime ally of the shellfish industry in the fight for Puget Sound water quality, has raised questions about geoduck farming on Puget Sound tidelands.

 

A policy prepared by People for Puget Sound in September 2006 calls for thorough environmental review of geoduck farms through permits issued by local governments, and independent, scientific studies of the effects of geoduck farming on the Puget Sound ecology.

 

“While this is a very controversial issue, it is by no means a large issue compared to stormwater, oil spills and a number of other threats to Puget Sound health,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound.

 

The 2007 state Legislature has stepped into the fray. Substitute House Bill 2220 would require more studies of the effects of geoduck farming by the University of Washington’s Sea Grant Program. It also would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to keep leasing up to 25 acres of aquatic land annually to commercial growers.

 

Geoduck farm opponents had called for a moratorium on new leases, pending the results of the studies.

 

“It’s an uphill battle,” said Zangle Cove resident Kathyrn Townsend of the attempts by her group, Protect Our Shoreline, to rein in the geoduck farms. “They’re displacing other uses of Puget Sound with their geoduck farms.”

 

Shellfish growers are rankled by the growing notion that they might be part of the Puget Sound pollution problem, instead of the solution.

 

“Washington has the largest number of fully approved growing water in the continental United States, which is a testament to the growers’ environmental stewardship,” Downey said. “We have a long track record of protecting the environment.”

 

While Washington is a shellfish-growing powerhouse, more than 30,000 acres of commercial shellfish growing area in Puget Sound has been closed to harvest because of pollution since 1980.

 

The recent loss of 55 acres of growing area at the north end of Oakland Bay to failing on-site septic systems is particularly ominous. Oakland Bay is the most productive clam bay in the nation and contributes nearly 50 percent of the state Manila clam harvest. Water quality for an additional 11 acres in the Chapman Cove area of the bay is teetering on the ragged edge, according to health officials.

 

In recent weeks, Mason County health officials have identified at least one, and maybe two, failing septic systems near Chapman Cove and are working with the property owners to get them fixed, said county health officer Dr. Diana Yu.

 

“We’ve made some progress,” she said.

 

Increased funds to help local governments and property owners identify and fix failing septic systems is a big part of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Puget Sound Initiative, the bid to restore Puget Sound health by 2020.

 

The 2006 Legislature earmarked $7.5 million in grants and loans to repair and replace faulty septic systems.

 

And the $220 million in new money for Puget Sound cleanup in Gregoire’s 2007-09 state budget includes $56.3 million to upgrade failing septic systems and help local governments improve their septic system programs.

 

Despite the momentum for a cleaner Puget Sound, and as a hedge against population growth and conflicts with waterfront property owners, Taylor Shellfish has quietly expanded its operations into British Columbia.

 

Last month, the company purchased the Fanny Bay Oyster Co. north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, adding to four smaller shellfish companies it has purchased in British Columbia since 2001.

 

The British Columbia moves boost Taylor Shellfish half-shell oyster production by 20 percent, to 50 million oysters a year.

 

“We’re still committed to South Sound — it’s our home,” said company co-­president Bill Taylor. “But it makes good business sense to diversify the business.”

 


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Longtime oyster grower has seen industry’s ups, downs in career


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John Dodge
As one of the patriarchs of the South Sound shellfish industry, Justin Taylor, 85, is the kind of man who commands respect through his words, his actions and his physical stature.

 

 “With his quiet wisdom and commitment to the shellfish industry and the environment, Justin Taylor is the best face the industry has to offer,” said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

 

Born into a family of oyster growers, Taylor was a little boy in 1927 when Rayonier Inc., opened its pulp mill in Shelton and began dumping sulfite waste liquor into Oakland Bay.

 

The toxic effluent was deadly to the native Olympia oyster. For the next 30 years, the pulp mill company and the oystermen waged a battle over pollution, a conflict the nonconfrontational Taylor remembers all too well.

 

The pollution war pitted friends and families against each other as the pulp mill offered a lot more jobs in Shelton than the oyster growers could at the time in their fight for clean water.

 

“Being an oyster grower gave you a bad name in Shelton,” Taylor said. “You have to remember how important a job was back then. And the mill jobs were good-paying jobs.”

 

But the oystermen finally prevailed in 1956 when the state Pollution Control Commission, the forerunner of the state Department of Ecology, refused to grant Rayonier a permit to continue discharging its waste into Oakland Bay. The mill shut down in 1957.

 

Flash forward 50 years and the shellfish industry is now the second-largest employer in Mason County. And the oyster growers are no longer alone in their never-ending fight to maintain and improve water quality in Puget Sound.

 

‘Success story’

 

The battle waged between the oyster growers and pulp mill industry is still fresh in the minds of long-time South Sound residents.

 

“The single greatest success story in Puget Sound cleanup was the cleanup of the paper mills that dumped chemicals into Oakland Bay in Shelton and destroyed the Olympia oyster beds in the lower Puget Sound as I was growing up,” said Walter H. Olsen of Tenino.

 

When the pulp mill closed, Justin and his brother, the late Edward Taylor, seized the moment and started buying up tidelands from Rayonier in Oakland Bay. The Olympia oyster was all but wiped out by then, so they began experimenting with other species, including manila clams and Pacific oysters.

 

The Taylors’ South Sound shellfish growing grounds continued to expand in the late 1960s as the family used money from the sale of forestland that is now the home of The Evergreen State College to buy more tidelands.

 

You see, there is nowhere Taylor would rather be than an intertidal beach, growing shellfish, harvesting shellfish and watching the tides go in and out.

 

“Some people climb mountains — I walk mud flats,” Taylor said.

 

From the beginning

 

In those early years, the company consisted of the two Taylor brothers and longtime business associate Dave Robertson, joined by Justin’s sons, Bill and Paul.

 

Armed with college degrees, the two sons returned to South Sound in the 1970s with big plans on how to grow the family business by expanding aquaculture operations, processing the shellfish, and conducting research into shellfish genetics, nutrition and growing techniques.

 

Born out of the sons’ ambitions was Taylor Shellfish Farms, the West Coast’s largest shellfish company with about 500 employees, 9,500 acres of owned and leased tidelands in Washington, Mexico and British Columbia, shellfish hatcheries at Hood Canal and Hawaii, a pearl farm in Fiji and a distribution company in Hong Kong.

 

“Dad was very encouraging,” said Bill Taylor, 50 and co-owner of Taylor Shellfish. “He let us take chances and grow the company.”

 

Still involved

 

Justin Taylor still stops by the bustling company office at Taylor Town off U.S. Highway 101 near Shelton almost every day. Broad-shouldered with wrists the size of most men’s arms and large gnarled hands, Taylor looks as if he could still put in a full day’s work harvesting shellfish.

 

Brett Bishop, whose family has raised shellfish on Little Skookum Inlet in Mason County for 124 years, named his second son Justin Frank Bishop in honor of Justin Taylor and his father, Frank Bishop.

 

“It was my way of telling Justin what I think of him,” Bishop said. “Justin is well-mannered, strong — everything I would want my son to be. He’s the finest man I’ve ever known.”

 

Asked about the future of the shellfish industry in South Sound, Taylor remains cautiously optimistic.

 

“We need every ounce of pollution prevention we can possibly have,” Taylor said. “But we also need to be working on cleaning up the water itself.”

 

Taylor is a big advocate of using shellfish to remove excess nutrients from the water.

 

“As long as you harvest them, shellfish are part of the solution,” he said.

Source or related URL: http://www.theolympian.com
 
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