January 14, 2019

An Important New Book Describes How the WA Shellfish Industry is Poisoning our Shoreline Environment

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote a book, Silent Spring, that documented the profound harm of the pesticide DDT on the natural world.  This book led to the of banning of DDT and energized the U.S. environment movement.

During the past week, an important new book has been published, one that may well join the ranks of Silent Spring.  The book, Toxic Pearl,  describes the poisoning of Washington State's shorelines by some politically connected and highly irresponsible members of the shellfish industry.  Toxic Pearl documents the spraying of herbicides and pesticides over State shorelines from Puget Sound to Willapa Bay, the careless spread of plastic pollution, and the physical destruction of shorelines areas by some members of the shellfish industry more concerned with profit than the environment.

The book also describes the shameless cooperation of state officials from the Department of Ecology and Natural Resources to the Governor's office with the shellfish industry, and even the participation of the State's educational institutions like WSU and the UW.

Toxic Pearl reviews the tragic history of the spraying of pesticides and herbicides over Washington State shorelines during the past half century by a shellfish industry that has moved industrial-scale "farming" of non-native shellfish species to our coastal and Puget Sound waters.

For decades, this industry, sprayed the pesticide Carbaryl, a powerful neurotoxin (also known as Sevin) around Willapa Bay and other local shore areas to kill a Washington State native animal, the burrowing shrimp.  Burrowing shrimp are an important food source for many native species including fish, birds, and crabs.  Why does the shellfish industry want to kill the native shrimp?  Because they aerate and mix the mudflats, making it more difficult for the shellfish industry to cheaply plant their non-native shellfish seed  (clams and oysters) into the mud.

Some members of the shellfish industry are also spraying herbicides such as imazamox  over the coastal zone to kill eel grasse to make it easier for the industrial clam and oyster operations.  Such grasses are important source of food for wildlife and provide habitat for a wide variety of species.  More recently, some in the shellfish industry is pushing to spray ANOTHER neurotoxin (Imidacloprid) over our coastal waters.   And, chasing the high-value Chinese market for geoducks, the industry is putting in miles of cut-off plastic tubes with plastic netting over mudflats around the region, resulting in the dispersal of plastic pollution throughout our coastal environment (see picture below).

Toxic Pearl tells the story of this extraordinary undermining of our coastal environment by some members of the shellfish industry, documents sickness and illness following the spraying, and reviews the association of spraying with a large increase of miscarriages among the Shoalwater Bay Tribe.  It asks many important questions, such as the health effects of the herbicides/pesticides for those who eat our shellfish and those who live near the shellfish operations.

Toxic Pearl is also a political story that describes the influence of a rich, favored local industry that has strong connections with Washington State government and the Governor.  The WA State Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources have supported the use of pesticides to kill the native burrowing shrimp, and Governor Inslee has taken advantage of the shellfish industry's weak claims of ocean acidification as the cause of problems in their factory oyster seed farms (see my blogs on this here and here) to support his advocacy efforts.

 In 2015, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times wrote an important article outlining the herbicide/pesticide spraying by the WA shellfish industry, but some of the clam/oyster folks are still spraying herbicides and pushing to spray Imidacloprid.
Toxic Pearl is a book that should be read by every Washingtonian who is interested in the environment and their own health.  And one, like Silent Spring, that hopefully will lead to real action and change.  Our coastal waters and Puget Sound are not private farmlands, but the shared inheritance of all.  Herbicides and pesticides should NEVER be used in these places.

Where can you get more information about the book and order it?

The author, M. Perle, has set up a website with orders and additional information: http://www.toxicpearl.com/

You can order the book online or in person from Orca Books in Olympia.

Or secure a kindle version from Amazon (only $5.99)
Books are also available from Powells Book in Portland, Eagle Harbor Books in Winslow (Bainbridge Island), BookTree in Kirkland, the BookShop in Edmonds, Kings Books in Tacoma, Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, and many more locations)


  1. Cliff, I'll be getting this book to learn more about these issues. Thanks for letting everyone know it's available. I might have missed it otherwise.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Cliff. We can't afford to ignore this issue any longer.

  3. Thank you, Cliff!

    Am I surprised? As a non-scientist, just an average citizen, nothing surprises me anymore.
    Everyone and everything seems to be corrupt, from the high levels of government down to
    academia, from sea to shining sea.
    I feel hopeless.

  4. Just crazy that they allow this. I should write to Inslee when I get time. I do think the public is not very aware of this. We could start a boycott on shellfish to force them to change. Perhaps even better, force them to grow the shellfish in tanks.

    And "they" worry about mariners anchoring in the eel-grass. Really!

  5. Dr. Mass, why do ignore the tens of thousands of acres of coastal habitat that have been drained, diked and sprayed with pesticides to plant potatoes, tulips and other heavily subsidized upland crops? The damage done dwarfs the impacts from the shellfishery.

  6. This is a really important issue. While Toxic Pearl outlines the State and shellfish industry’s abuses in Willapa Bay, this type of environmentally insensitive behavior is just the tip of the iceberg.

    As we all know, our resident Orca population in Puget Sound is in danger of extinction. The primary food source for the Orca is the Puget Sound Chinook salmon. About 60% of a juvenile Chinook salmon’s diet is a forage fish called the Sand Lance. The Sand Lance spawns in south Puget Sound on many of the same beaches used by the shellfish industry to grow geoducks (all the PVC pipes you see in Professor Mass’s blog).

    Dan Penttila, retired scientist from WDFW, and the State’s foremost expert on forage fishes, has documented serious problems with the interactions of geoduck aquaculture and successful spawning of the sand lance.

    So, a decline in Sand Lance means a decline in Chinook Salmon. A decline in Chinook Salmon means a decline in Orca. Why is this not a headline in the State’s efforts regarding saving the Orca? Simple answer: the power of the shellfish lobby and its hold on the Governor, Legislators, and State agencies.

    Please see Puget Sound’s Woven Threads.

  7. As always in these scenarios, follow the money - it never fails to lead you to the final conclusion as to who are the culprits. Specifically, who was paying which legislators to look the other way and/or enable this practice to go unheeded?

  8. The wealthy and politically connected commercial environmental destroyers have already won. No stopping them.

    I learned this in 2012 when I became involved in a local issue where North Cascasde Heli-ski cut down a federally listed sensitive species, namely, White Bark Pine trees.

    NCH did this in order to create unauthorized helicopter landing zones in an apparent attempt to expand their ski run list, catering to mostly wealthy clients. They told their clients they did it for safety and that plausible explanation won their hearts while ignoring the fact that this was totally against the law.

    I watched as the US Forest Service went along with the NCH corporate line cover story which blamed the helicopter pilot, "who was new to the area and didn't know the rules", for these actions.

    I watched as other cover stories took hold after more of these illegal cut sites were discovered and reported to the FS by local concerned citizens thinking we were performing our Civic duty.

    I heard the lies and asked FS law enforcement to investigate to no avail.

    I watched the paper lion that the Forest Service created to address this issue, which increased the scope and use of the NCH permit forgoing the public scoping process.

    The paper lion placed the NCH special use permit on probation for 5 years and imposed a $6,000 fee to replant fragile mountain Ridgetop areas. Each destroyed tree was valued at $100, the FS cost schedule based on the cost of a standard Landscaping value nursery pine tree (a resort in Canada was just fined 1.5 million dollars for similar actions).

    I listened as an NCH owner verbally assaulted me in a public parking lot with borderline threats for me to stay out of Mazama because "we don't like narcs" there. I filed a police report and immediately reported the issue to the Forest Service.

    I learned that the Forest Service doesn't give a rat's ass if a primary complaint and Witness to a crime is intimidated and harassed.

    The pilot received a warning citation for the 1st discovered cut site and no further Law enforcement action was taken for subsequently discovered illegal cut sites.

    So its up to us.

    As long as we consume the products that these thieves offer, the practice will continue to the detriment of our environment, animal habitat and ethical values.

    I have will no longer consume farmed sea products produced by people who are stealing our planets future.

    Chris H.
    Heli-free North Cascades

    1. I grew up in the sixties. You know, the Vietnam protest time period. You need to read and study Eddy Abbey's book The Monkey Wrench Gang and then do what you feel is the right thing to do. Protesting on this blog is meaningless and a waste of time. Besides, I'm tired of your rants. Do something.

  9. Dr. Mass,

    You state, “The shellfish industry is also spraying herbicides such as imazamox over the coastal zone to kill the shore grasses to make it easier for the industrial clam and oyster operations.  Such grasses are important source of food for wildlife and provide habitat for a wide variety of species.”

    That is not exactly true. It IS true that the some in the shellfish industry have sprayed herbicides on shore grass, but NOT grasses that “are important sources of food for wildlife and provide habitat for a wide variety of species.” The truth is that some shellfish farmers have sprayed herbicides in an effort to eradicate Spartina alterniflora, a highly invasive, non-native species of marsh grass that has threatened to displace tens of thousands of acres of highly valuable coastal habitat…habitat for crabs, clams, oysters, juvenile salmon, eelgrass and shore birds. In fact, Spartina is exactly NOT “a valuable source of food or habitat” for our native species. Studies have shown that Spartina in the PNW forms unproductive monocultures that are not utilized by, and displace, our native species. Additionally, it is not just shellfish farmers who have applied herbicides to Spartina in an attempt to eradicate this destructive invasive. So has the State, and so have private land owners and non-profit environmental groups…all in an effort to protect our native habitat and the species that have evolved to thrive in them.

    Dr. Mass, it is clear that you have a bully pulpit here and it is also clear that many people take you for your word as an authority on all matters, many not directly related to whether or not it might rain tomorrow. I know that you have a long-standing beef with the Shellfish industry, but it’s hard to take you for your word when you get something so fundamental so wrong. I ask you to please be more careful with your accusations when you attack an entire agricultural industry and I sincerely hope that the was just a careless mistake and not an intentional attempt to deceive.

    John Rybczyk 

  10. Chris, a worthy goal to be sure, but do we really know where that food source originates? Is it clearly marked on the packaging? The devil is in the details.

  11. I enjoyed your post and it really enlighten me.
    Fortunately it doesn't look like the imadacloprid use has been approved.

  12. Chirs...will you also pledge to not consume ANY farmed product that is grown on former, valuable coastal habitat that has been erradicated to grow crops?

  13. I never quite understand the inconsistent, if not ironic, response of some to these additional potential instances of mankind wrecking the planet. I believe that in a multitude of ways we are using up important resources like clean air, water, and land that we once believed were unlimited. And I continue to be deeply worried about that.

    So, when the scientific community reports, based on the results of monumental amounts of peer-reviewed research by thousands of scientists over many years (which continues to be confirmed and refined on a nearly daily basis), that we are doing serious damage to the entire planet(not just Willapa Bay) due to global warming, that conclusion is met with skepticism, conspiracy theories, and various political characterizations by some.

    I am disturbed that I cannot find out anything about M. Perle and it makes me wonder why. I don't know if some of the climate change skeptics who visit this blog may be willing to completely accept what appears to be M. Perle's juicy story based on the endorsement of Dr. Mass and the excitement of yet another conspiracy in our government. Yet some of these folks appear to have great trouble accepting that global warming is probably far more threatening to our planet. Perhaps the problem is global warming is not a compelling conspiracy story of people in power sitting in a backroom hatching a plan to warm everything up so we will all be forced to buy air conditioners.

    While there may be merit to the author's story (I cannot really say), this is still a single book. I am no fan of widespread use of pesticides and other chemicals in our environment, so please do not suggest I am. But I think it is fair to ask who the author is and what the author's credentials are before automatically accepting the assertions.

    1. This story has been well covered in the news.

      The neurotoxin that has been denied use by state angencies and awaiting appeal is suspected to be contributing to Honey Bee colony collapse.

      I haven't been able to keep any of my 20 to 25 bee colonies alive through the winter for the past three winters. Colony collapse.

      I can control what food I choose to consume,so I'll stick with farmed Penn Cove mussels that don't require Mudflats and killing the native shrimp.

      Maybe the farmed oyster industry needs to change the way it produces food.

      Chris H.
      Heli-free North Cascades

  14. Henry … Check out:


  15. "Our coastal waters and Puget Sound are not private farmlands..." Actually, they are. The very first European settlers built levees and dikes and drained our estuaries, claimed the land as their own, and have been growing crops there every since. They have applied far more pesticides and herbicides than has the shellfish industry. Those pesticides and herbicides end up in the Salish Sea. If you think they don't then you have a lot to learn about the fate and transport of contaminants. I don't understand why you are making a distinction between an industry that farms estuarine organisms in the estuary and an industry that grows upland, non-native crops in the estuary.

  16. As with any article or book that speaks to an issue of science or industry, the first thing one should do is to understand the author's background and expertise along with any other works they've published. Basically to establish a basis for credibility.

    That is not possible with the author of this book, M. Perle, at least not via Google search. I went and bought the Kindle version with the hope that I'd learn more, but there was nothing about the author in it. The Kindle book did did list a web page, so I went there in hope of learning more. Still absolutely nothing about the author. Whoever this M. Perle is, they appear to be an on-line ghost.

    Perhaps Cliff can update us on the author's credentials and experience in this area... otherwise I don't plan on wasting my time reading the book.

  17. Gosh Cliff, I don't know what to say. I know the state has been spraying and even rototilling the intertidal for years in an attempt to eradicate Spartina, an aggressive invasive that modifies the intertidal into a monoculture that crowds out shrimp, crabs, and many, many species of mollusks.
    I have ordered a copy of the book to see if there is some egregious action by Taylors, et al that I am not aware of. But, the industry as a whole is in my opinion run in a very responsible way, and those working in it have undertaken this vocation because they understand intertidal ecologies, and care for them very much.
    It is easy to whip up a frenzy of the uninitiated, but not constructive regardless of what side of an issue you are aligned with.
    Jeff Campbell - MS Marine and Estuarine Science

  18. Thank you Cliff for an accurate account of the destruction of Washington State marine life by pesticides, plastic pollution and the removal of wildlife that used to feed in their historical areas on the shorelines. It is shameful that the shellfish industry is enabled by Inslee and state agencies under his control to continue these harmful practices--a lesson of lobbying at its finest! We will never save the Orcas and salmon as long as their prey and refuge are allowed to be destroyed.

    Our National Treasure, Puget Sound and the coastal waters, bring billions of dollars of business which has benefited a wide array of businesses. It makes no sense to allow one small industry like the shellfish industry that pays no export taxes, minimal tideland taxes and a minimal amount of working wage jobs to damage those resources. This industry also forgets that the waters and the aquatic life belong to the public, not to them.

    I certainly will not eat any of the shellfish grown in Washington State until I know these practices and their expansion have been stopped.

  19. MAC, It's not a conspiracy if its public knowledge. This kind of thing is what happens when there are corrupt public officials and in Washington state, we have a few.

  20. It takes courage to write a book about destruction, politics and corruption of any industry. After reading this book it is obvious to me why an author would be writing under protection to avoid retaliation by the shellfish industry. The detailed notes and documents listed on the website provide adequate documentation. It is apparent there was a complete disregard for human heath and marine life while the industry felt they could do anything they wanted.

    Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic to humans” according to the World Health Organization. Since glyphosate is now liked to the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it is unbelievable that the Governor/Ecology/this industry would spray any chemicals especially glyphosate out of helicopters over unsuspecting citizens. I wonder how many citizens were exposed to these dangerous chemicals.

  21. @MAC, do you have to drag your end-of-the-world cult obsession into everything? Here's an idea: Why not shave your head, put on a yellow robe, and give away "free" books at the airport?

  22. Does this sound familiar?

    "Chemical industry representatives and lobbyists lodged a range of non-specific complaints, some anonymously. Chemical companies and associated organizations produced brochures and articles promoting and defending pesticide use. However, Carson's and the publishers' lawyers were confident in the vetting process Silent Spring had undergone. The magazine and book publications proceeded as planned, as did the large Book-of-the-Month printing, which included a pamphlet by William O. Douglas endorsing the book.[41]

    American Cyanamid biochemist Robert White-Stevens and former Cyanamid chemist Thomas Jukes were among the most aggressive critics, especially of Carson's analysis of DDT.[42] According to White-Stevens, "If man were to follow the teachings of Miss Carson, we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth".[1] Others attacked Carson's personal character and scientific credentials, her training being in marine biology rather than biochemistry. White-Stevens called her "a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature",[43] while former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson in a letter to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly said that because she was unmarried despite being physically attractive, she was "probably a Communist".[44]

    Many critics repeatedly said Carson was calling for the elimination of all pesticides, but she had made it clear she was not advocating this but was instead encouraging responsible and carefully managed use with an awareness of the chemicals' impact on ecosystems.[45] She concludes her section on DDT in Silent Spring with advice for spraying as little as possible to limit the development of resistance.[46] Mark Hamilton Lytle writes, Carson "quite self-consciously decided to write a book calling into question the paradigm of scientific progress that defined postwar American culture".

  23. If you are concerned with your health you should not be eating shellfish or animal products. If more people clapped on to the food revolution that is underway, we could substantially lower obesity and other lifestyle diseases and drastically lower our carbon footprint by not raising huge populations of chickens, cows, goats, pigs, etc. If you count yourself as a progressive, and you are genuinely concerned with climate change and healthcare, the single most important thing you can do is to embrace a plant based diet and encourage those around you to do the same. Google it. The benefits are manifold.

  24. Any activity which negatively effects the sand lance population should be curtailed ASAP. The value of geoduck exports should be sternly appraised against possible negative impacts on orca health with the utmost scrutiny. If there are knowledge gaps with regards to potential impacts of geoduck culture a healthy margin for safety in favour of the mammals should immediately be applied toward decisions made as the clock is ticking on orca populations. Just my thoughts as a sport fisherman who is happy to see reduced openings for chinook fishing in order to improve salmon availability to orcas.

  25. Thank you, Cliff! I totally agree.

  26. JeffB,

    Correction: the second most important thing is to go on a plant based diet. The most important thing you can do is abstain from reproduction, but I think that's a price most people aren't willing to pay. Actually veganism is probably number three- Number two I think would be abstaining from the use of fossil fuels (also tough to do).

  27. "If you count yourself as a progressive, and you are genuinely concerned with climate change and healthcare, the single most important thing you can do is to embrace a plant-based diet and encourage those around you to do the same."

    Best way to really make a difference. Stop breeding like rabbits whilst acting like locust. I'll go on eating meat, but at least I'll have the small comfort of knowing my carbon footprint ends with me. 7 billion (soon to be 8) plant eaters are still going to cause all kinds of problems for the environment. They will just be different ones.

  28. The misanthropy is telling. It's not really about the environment, it's about denying your fellow man through the power structures of socialism and worse. And it's misguided. If we were not feeding several population of animals and instead focused on feeding humans there would be a lot less disease because omnivores have so much greater likelihood of disease. And there would be more than enough food to feed the world. And the US, Europe and most of the other first world nations already have negative or roughly break even population replacement reproduction rates. So if you hate reproduction that much, you should be shouting your misanthropic message in the Middle East or in India, the problem is not in the United States.

    Also, if you're not willing to give up meat, then you are certainly not going to be willing to give up fossil fuels, nor is anyone else until there is a replacement reliable baseload energy source of either fusion or thorium fission. If you are serious about climate change, spend your time advocating for a rational change of energy baseload and not simply barking at the moon about fossil fuels. No one is going to be willing to drive our prospering economy and luxurious lifestyle in to the ground just for the sake of fossil fuels. And if you are, then be the first to stop commenting here, shutdown your computer and find a cave or other place where you can live fossil fuel free.

    The problems we face are engineering problems, not resource or population problems. They would be easy to solve if we did not have to deal with the irrational progressive agenda.

  29. I am wondering about the author and being a ghost writer. I have followed this issue for 20 years off and on based on the people that live in the area and a Seattle Times article. everyone should get in a car and drive that area in Southwest Washington State to ask questions and see first hand what is going on. I am debating buying the book at this time.

  30. A lot of good comments from people who care about the environment. I think Ansel, in particular, is spot on.

    Was pleasantly surprised to see JeffB advocating a plant-based diet. Not your typical regressive.

  31. Well not to worry, apparently the world is going to end in twelve years anyway:


    1. @Jeff

      Your link referenced World War 2. Let's pretend it's 1920, and military experts are telling us that if we don't don't act soon (within 12 years), Germany will rise up and by the end of the century, take over the world. Really bad.

      Most of the population doesn't give a damn, noting they won't be around in 80 years.
      Half think the experts are alarmist nutters.

      What should the government do?

  32. For roughly 25 years, encompassing the presidencies of Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, the top tax rate in America was 91%. Nowadays, if you want 70% on annual earnings over $10,000,000, you're called a socialist.

  33. @Snape, you didn't take too many history classes, did you?

  34. @Pacemaker

    As it stands now, annual income over $500,000 is taxed at 37% (down from 39.6% under Obama). That's the top bracket. Just to be clear, this means that if you earned $500,001, only 1 dollar would be taxed at that rate.


    Ocasio-Cortez's idea is to add a rate that only affects the super rich: 70%, applied to earnings over $10,000,000. That rate or higher was the norm until the 80's. Notice that in 1964 a 70% top tax was passed with bipartisan support by congress, and at the time, amounted to a huge CUT for the wealthy (had been 91% or higher since the 2nd World War).


  35. Update.


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

More Wildfire Misinformation at the Seattle Times

 The Seattle Times continues to shamelessly exaggerate and hype the regional effects of climate change. This week they really went overboard...