Politics Continue Dominate Washington Regulatory Decisions

It looks like Washington’s oyster population will become the latest victim of politics-as-usual among regulators in Olympia.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) recently rejected a bid by Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) to use a pesticide to control burrowing mud shrimp that invade oyster beds, making it difficult for the shellfish to grow.

Yet, three years ago regulators actually granted the necessary permitting to deploy the pesticide and concluded it was not likely to do harm to the estuary environment. While Director Maia Bellon cited “evolving science” as the reason for the change of heart by Ecology, this shift is anything but based in sound science.

As WGHOGA president Ken Wiegardt noted, there isn’t actually any new research to justify Ecology’s new conclusion that completely deviates from findings in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The reality is Ecology heard from their environmental allies and used the opportunity of a renewed permit application to flip from their previous position, even though the acreage in this new permit is smaller and offers the option to use the area for scientific monitoring of the chemicals impacts. “To us, it seems like Ecology has been laying in the weeds, delaying action on our permit application, and politicizing the future of our farms,” he said.

In fact, the WGHOGA has done all it can to comply with environmental standards and find out the real science behind the use of a pesticide to keep their beds safe. As they note in their comments, they have submitted a plan which strives to “increase the efficacy of [the pesticide] applications, continue efforts to test and develop non-chemical controls of burrowing shrimp, and, ultimately, to reduce the use of [the pesticide] over time.”

It is troubling to watch. Especially since the denial will have tremendous economic consequences. The shellfish industry in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor contributes more than $100 million to the state’s economy and employs thousands of farmers whose families have been stewards of the bay for generations. Without controls on the shrimp population, the group estimates production of shellfish could reduce by 80-90 percent.

The growers are clearly facing a serious infestation from these burrowing shrimp that has gone unchecked and they need this issue to be addressed by regulators who are supposed to facilitate and protect their business.

One must ask, why would these farmers wish to threaten the very ecological balance that they rely on to keep their families fed? The answer is they won’t. Instead, it comes down to another political decision by regulators who value their agenda over the needs of those who understand that without a healthy ecosystem, their livelihoods would not exist.