May 01, 2015

Oyster victory: But there is more left to do

Today there was a substantial victory for those who value the environmental quality of our State's waterways:   Taylor Shellfish announced it would not spray the pesticide/neurotoxin imidacloprid over thousands of acres of tideland of Willapa Bay and Greys Harbor. 

This positive outcome was the result of a massive public response after articles appeared in Bloomberg News and the Seattle Times, whose article by Danny Westneat was the real initiator of the public reaction.

But the threat to these tidelands and adjacent public waters is not ended:  

   (1)  Other oyster farmers have not agreed to ban imidaclorprid.
   (2)   The WA State Department of Ecology's approval to use this neurotoxin has NOT been rescinded.
    (3)  Oyster farmers are still planning to spread herbicides on the  tidelands to kill eelgrass.
   (4)  The shellfish industry, including Taylor, is still polluting our waterways with PVC pipes and other plastics.

Perhaps most disturbing of all has been the role of the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE), the state agency that is supposed to protect our environment, not promote its decline for the sake of private interests.

It is startling, that for DECADES, the  State and DOE has allowed the potent and carcinogenic pesticide carbaryl (SEVIN) to be sprayed on tideflats to aid the oyster growers.  According to the National Pesticide Information Center:

  • Carbaryl ranges from slightly to highly toxic to several species of fish 
  • Carbaryl ranges from moderately to very highly toxic to marine invertebrates, such as shrimp and oysters  
  • Carbaryl is very highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates such as shrimp and stoneflies. 
  • Carbaryl can also damage frog tadpoles during their development 
  • Carbaryl is very high in toxicity to honey bees and can harm beneficial insects 
  • Carbaryl is considered a human carcinogen.

Can you imagine that the State Department of Ecology EVER let this chemical be applied to Willapa Bay and Greys Harbor tidelands?

Or that DOE allowed the herbicide Imazamox to be sprayed over the same areas to kill eelgrass, which a Department of Ecology site says is critical habitat for birds, fish, and other animals.

Many of you who complained via email to DOE Director Maia Bellon got a response by Rich Doenges, Southwest Region Manager, Water Quality Program, in which he provides the DOE website on the issue.  You will not believe what is in there.

They start by pushing the economic importance of the oyster business:

About 25 percent of our nation’s commercial oysters are produced from these two bays. The shrimp are more than a nuisance; they put the shellfish industry and economy at risk.

 They then admit they allowed that the State allowed the insecticide carbaryl for over 50 years!

But then it gets surreal.  DOE admits that the pesticide imidaclorprid by Bayer specifically said that it was not to be used in the water.

But EXACTLY, the same chemical, produced by an Australian firm, was OK to use on our tidelands.

The State of Ecology needs to ban spraying of pesticides and herbicides on tidelands adjacent to public waterways and all of us should keep the pressure on DOE Director Maia Bellon and her staff until they do so.    Governor Inslee also needs to know of our concerns.  Some oyster farmers use alternative (and more costly) methods for propagating oysters without spraying chemicals.

They should be commended and the rest of the industry should follow their lead.   Washington State should pride itself on producing the best shellfish possible in clean, natural waters untainted by a chemical brew sprayed by factory aquaculture enterprises.

The Deeper Question

The coastal aquatic environment has been altered by daming the Columbia, logging, pollution running off land, bringing in invasive species, and more.   Should we compensate for this damage to aid one industry by using other artificial, and perhaps risky, alterations (e.g., herbicides and pesticides)?  Perhaps we need to step back and think this through.   But the decision is a societal one, particularly since the tideflats are adjacent to PUBLIC lands,  and clearly folks have spoken loudly.


  1. Again Dr. Mass, I fail to understand why you are singling out the oyster industry here. Carbaryl is very commonly used by farmers and gardeners. The amount sprayed on upland crops vastly dwarfs the amount used by oyster farmers. You can (and many people do) buy carbaryl at Lowes or Home Depot to spray in their home gardens. It's no less toxic to honey bees or no less a carcinogen when sprayed on your tomatoes.

  2. Where can we find the list of shellfish producers that do not use toxic chemicals to raise shellfish?

    Definetly this is a wakeup call for customers worldwide that use shellfish produced from these areas in Washington State about the high health risks of using toxic checmicals to control nature.

    After 55 years if I learned one thing, you cannot control mother nature to your liking. We keep chasing our tails in a viscious circle of enviromental damage activity and can never solve the first problem we create.

  3. Unknown,
    Just because it is possible to buy Carbaryl does not meant you should use it. Remember, the shellfish folks are spraying in on PUBLIC LANDS, the tideflats. And into water, so that stuff and move around. Gardeners and farmers are spaying the chemical on their OWN LAND. The tidelands are a public space and the fish and other animals that live in the bays do not belong to the oyster folks.

    I strongly suspect that the oyster folks can find another, perhaps more expensive solution. No only oyster operations use spray and some use other approaches....cliff

  4. Taylor Shellfish going to continue to use herbicides on the eelgrass? I don't want any of THAT in my oyster shooters either. I am pissed beyond belief that I have been eating Taylor Shellfish oysters for years and had no idea of the toxic brew they were marinated in.
    As mtkovacs said, we need a list of producers that DON'T use this chemical crap and support THEM with our wallets.

  5. Is there a list of shellfish producers in WA state that do not use toxic chemicals to raise shellfish?

  6. Thank you Cliff for the excellent blog.

    We help raise Mason bees on Vashon Island because it is relatively free of pesticides.

  7. There is a guy locally (Raymond) who was an oyster grower for years who did it organically. He says there are methods including growing on lines or poles that do not involve chemicals. He is retired now but follows the industry. The biggest issue with that chemical in the bay is there is no research on how it affects salmon and shore birds who eat the shrimp. We need to stop thinking the solution to problems is to kill-it messes with the balance of nature and causes more problems.

  8. I left a comment on the DOE website. Hard to believe this is a unit of government created to protect what they are now willing to pollute with more chemicals.

  9. I have known for a while that the Washington State Department of Ecology is in the back pocket of Taylor Shellfish. It is nice to see it laid out in public finally!

  10. My understanding is that the tideflats are owned by the oyster farmers. They pay property taxes on those plots. That being said, I am very reluctant to consume the oysters produced. The spray used is but the latest environmental intervention employed in the production of oysters in Willapa Bay.

  11. At least Taylor Shellfish has backed away from using this nasty chemical-they are to be commended for that and hopefully will use this opportunity of public attention to do more. It is totally disturbing that Dept. of Ecology has issued this permit. Is Ecology merely the fox watching the henhouse? If anyone has read the Material Data Safety Sheet on Imidacloprid they will notice right away that there is no detailed information on testing results on humans over time, only lab rats. Makes me think that the testing hasn't been done or they would mention it. Any chemical that we add to the soil or water is going to ultimately come back to us or future generations through the food we eat or the water we drink.

  12. Just ban the use of all pesticides for good. Make it universal across the world. It's time to go 100% organic, no exceptions.

    Make GMO illegal.
    Make Monsanto illegal.

    Go vegan, go green.

    1. I agree. Vegan is lowest water & carbon footprint as well as humane.

  13. And we wonder why we have cancer in our society. Thanks you government officials.

  14. Looks to me like the growers should redesign their processes to eliminate these as problems. The Seattle Times had another article about an operation on Hood Canal that raises oysters by hanging them in bags here. It would be interesting to know why Hama Hama chose that method. Might there be reason why it can not be used in Willapa Bay?

  15. Public outcry has been heard! Dept. of Ecology has cancelled the permit!

  16. so, habitat restoration programs are trying to plant eelgrass to fix the fish habitats we've destroyed, and the plan here is to kill off all the eelgrass? that seems... counterproductive.

  17. Taylor Shellfish is doing immeasurable harm to its' brand. I had thought of them as environmentally friendly after their comments about the dangers to the shellfish industry from nonfunctional septic systems along streams that dump into Puget Sound. Their use of pesticides and herbicides will likely result in my not buying their products.

  18. Nothing like friends in high places. The DOE is due for an independent investigation of its permitting processes and doubtful ethics. It seems unlikely that Taylor is the only company allowed to run wild in The Wild.

    Governor Chris Gregoire set a goal of "Cleaning up Puget Sound by 2020." Are we clean yet?

  19. Here is list of companies spraying Imazamox this summer purportedly on 3,000 acres of commercial non-native clam beds...there isn't that much acreage in commercial clam bed production.

  20. If you search the PDC candidate contributions for Willapa/Grays Harbor you will see all 3 state reps take $$ from several shellfish companies as well as Taylor. Also, RR's, oil/gas, Monsanto, big pharma...etc etc. The REAL crux of this issue.

    There is no way the Director of the Dept of Ecology would have issued the fraudulent Environmental Impact Statements for Imazamox, Carbaryl, and Imidacloprid, without Governor approval.

    The Carbaryl/Imidacloprid Draft and Final EIS flipped conclusions of reference cited, cherry picked data, and had major research omissions.

  21. These are the companies that sprayed Carbaryl over the years 2007-2013 based on Ecology annual operation plans. In terms of acreage, the largest sprayers were Coast Seafoods and Taylor Shellfish.

    Coast Seafoods
    Taylor Shellfish
    Wiegardt & Sons
    Bay Center Mariculture
    Goose Point
    Heckes Oyster
    Northern Oyster
    Olsen & Sons
    Willapa Fish & Oyster
    R&B Oyster
    Stoney Point
    Willapa Bay Shellfish
    Jambor Oyster
    Oysterville Seafarms
    Cedar River

    Grass Creek

    Spraying ecologically significant eelgrass, 3,000 + acres, is either underway or about to start. See prior post.

  22. Publically Financed Elections
    Yes, I would..cliff


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

Is Mid-June Getting Warmer or Colder?

 As I will demonstrate below, this past week has been unusually cool around the region. But that leads to another question.... is mid-June g...