Saving Private Oysters?

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In 1895, lawmakers in Olympia reaffirmed a unique provision of state law, enacted by the Territorial Legislature, known as the Bush and Callow Land Acts, that allowed private parties to lease coastal tidelands for commercial purposes. Bush-Callow upheld the validity and value of private investment, even on public land, in cultivating and propagating clams and other shellfish. The argument was that shellfish farming should benefit from the same status as "other agricultural activities, programs, and development within the state."

Thus was born Washington's oyster industry. (In Oregon, on the other hand, all tidelands are considered public, with no commercial use allowed.) Bush-Callow and various follow-up legislation ensured that shellfish cultivation and aquaculture became protected activities.

In the intervening years, one company in particular grew and grew, not just because of land it owned, but other tidelands that it leased: Taylor Shellfish. With 650 employees, annual sales of $75 million, and operations around the world, it is the biggest American provider of shellfish, farming 10,000 acres of Puget Sound tidelands for oysters, mussels, clams, and geoduck. It sells oysters and clams to restaurants across the country, sponsors the West Coast Oyster Wine Competition, and operates three retail outlets in Seattle (Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Pioneer Square).

Bill Taylor-001.JPGSo when the company announced this week that it would spray its Willapa Bay oyster beds with a pesticide called imidacloprid to control an infestation of burrowing shrimp in the intertidal sands, it had the blessing of the Department of Ecology (which had banned the previous treatment, with carbaryl). But it did not reckon with the public outrage.

Imidacloprid is widely used in land-based agriculture, but not in aquaculture. It's a neurotoxin that warns right on the label that it shouldn't be applied directly to water. The Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration have also warned about unintended consequences.

Bill Taylor, right, fifth generation to head the company, argued that the state's scientists as well as the Environmental Protection Agency were behind his company's efforts, which he claimed were necessary to save Willapa Bay's shellfish beds. But the protests were too loud. After several days of social media outrage, Taylor backed down. "We have chosen to respect the concerns of our customers," he said.

But "this decision weighs heavily on us knowing it will affect other growers in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor," Taylor said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "Many multi-generational family businesses may not survive."

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on May 1, 2015 6:00 PM.

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