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Daily News Blog

13
Jan

WA Oyster Growers Request Approval to Spray Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Bay, Despite Public Opposition

(Beyond Pesticides, January 13, 2016) Last Friday, the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) in Washington State sent a 71-page request to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) asking state regulators to approve  a permit to  spray neonicotinoid insecticides  that are having devastating effects on the ecosystems worldwide. Yet, WGHOGA is pursuing a single-minded approach to chemically control the shrimp that are hurting their oyster crops, while using chemicals that the preponderance of science finds cause ecosystem imbalance.

IOyster_Farmingn  April 2015, much to the dismay of activists and concerned local residents, Ecology approved a permit for the use of imidacloprid (a neonicotinoid) to combat a growing native population of burrowing shrimp that threatens  valuable shellfish (oyster) beds in Willapa Bay and Grays  Harbor. But, with a  nationwide public outcry, the permit was withdrawn in May 2015.

Ecology sent KING 5, a local Washington news agency, the below statement last Friday:

“We received the permit application this morning from the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association to use imidacloprid on shellfish beds. It will take some time for us to review the 71-page application. On May 3 (2015) the Oyster Growers Association asked Ecology to withdraw their permit. Since then, the state registration to use imidacloprid on shellfish beds has expired. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (DOA) would need to reissue a registration before a new permit from Ecology can be considered. Also since the withdrawal of the permit, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a risk assessment of using imidacloprid in water, and we are tracking the outcome. We understand the public’s concerns about pesticide use on shellfish beds. Any permit review process will be transparent and open for public review and comment.”

The shellfish industry is important to the Pacific Northwest, injecting an estimated $270 million or more into the region’s economy, and providing jobs for many. Washington’s tidelands, especially those in Willapa Bay, have been particularly productive for more than 100 years. However, according to shellfish growers, the burrowing shrimp (ghost shrimp, Neotrypaea californiensis,  and mud shrimp, Upogebia pugettensis) undermines the industry. The creatures burrow into shellfish beds, making the beds too soft for shellfish cultivation. Their burrowing churns the tidelands into a sticky muck, smothering the oysters. After several years of deliberations and studies, Ecology identified imidacloprid as its  preferred choice for eradicating the shrimp. According to the agency, imidacloprid disrupts the burrowing shrimps’ ability to maintain their burrows. A 2013 risk assessment conducted by Ecology concluded that, “The proposed use of imidacloprid to treat burrowing shrimp in shellfish beds located in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor is expected to have little or no impact on the local estuarine and marine species”¦.. , and will not significantly impact human health.”

However, in comments submitted by the Xerces Society, supported by Beyond Pesticides and others, Ecology failed to consider existing published research that demonstrates the potential for wide-range ecological damage from the use of the insecticide imidacloprid. The groups say that the  risks, coupled with the lack of data on how imidacloprid will impact sensitive marine environments like Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, warrant greater caution. The comments urged the agency to review existing data that  shows imidacloprid’s potential to damage the rich marine ecosystems of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor. Imidacloprid is water soluble and highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates. Its persistence and largely irreversible mode of action in invertebrates make it particularly dangerous in these ecosystems. Further, the comments note, imidacloprid’s impact on these key species can also cause a cascading trophic effect, harming the fish, birds, and other organisms that rely on them for sustenance.

The decision to withdraw the permit last May was reached in large part due to vocal public outrage over the plan, as consumers, environmental organizations, and prominent local chefs spoke out against the spraying. According to a news release published by the agency at the time, DOA Director Maia Bellon stated, “One of our agency’s goals is to reduce toxics in our environment. We’ve heard loud and clear from people across Washington that this permit didn’t meet their expectations, and we respect the growers’ response.”

In an article published in the Seattle Times, the largest shellfish producer in country, Taylor Shellfish, announced it would not treat its oyster beds with imidacloprid in response to numerous calls, emails, and social media comments made by its customers. “Our customers spoke loud and clear, and that speaks volumes to us,” said Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor Shellfish. Given Taylor Shellfish’s size, it is likely that WGHOGA did not have the resources to move forward with the pesticide application.

Retailers, consumers and environmental organizations were not the only ones to raise concern for the use of imidacloprid. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) voiced many concerns over the application of imidacloprid to the bays. Among them include concerns surrounding the large size of the area to be treated. NMFS believes that the proposed acreage should be reduced because of many unknowns regarding impact to other aquatic and terrestrial biota. Further, NMFS states that the burrowing shrimp are native to the region and play an important role in the natural ecosystem. The agency also voiced concern for the green sturgeon — a “species of concern” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the potential direct and indirect impacts to its food sources in the designated critical habitat. The agency believes that effects and damages will not be limited to the treatment sites. Similarly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) also expressed reservations over imidacloprid use. FWS wrote Ecology expressing its opposition to the imidacloprid permit, citing a lack of scientific information regarding fate and transport, efficacy, persistence, and effects to non-target organisms. It went on to dispute claims that shrimp control improves biodiversity, citing the possibility of significant alterations occurring to the bay’s ecosystem without burrowing shrimp control, disagreeing with Ecology’s conclusion that “no significant adverse impacts” would be expected.

For more information on the environmental impacts of neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid, visit our What the Science Shows page. To learn more about the use of chemicals in Willapa Bay and Greys Harbor, read our Pesticides and You article, Residents Say No To Pesticide-Poisoned Bays.

Source: KING 5, SeattlePi

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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2 Responses to “WA Oyster Growers Request Approval to Spray Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Bay, Despite Public Opposition”

  1. 1
    Carol Leary Says:

    I just can NOT believe that this initiative, to use imidacloprid,,originates in Washington state. There are a lot of us back here who keep our eyes on developments in Washington, just so we can get good ideas for proposals to our own legislators. This is nothing short of shocking.

    Kindly reject applications to use destructive pesticides, fine & imprison those who violate environmental laws protecting us.

  2. 2
    Tim Scerra Says:

    Please reject this request completely .. ” is expected to have little or no impact on the local estuarine and marine species….. , and will not significantly impact human health.” is not valid and the risk is too great to consider !

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