(Beyond Pesticides, August 23, 2017) The Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a federal lawsuit to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from moving forward with an expansion of industrial shellfish aquaculture on the Washington state coast without any water quality or marine life protections from pesticide use and habitat loss. This is just the latest in efforts to protect sensitive coastal areas in Washington from shellfish farming that is contributing to increased pesticide use and environmental degradation.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington earlier this month, challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) issuance of a nationwide permit (NWP 48), which, according to the suit, “greenlights a massive expansion of shellfish aquaculture with entirely inadequate protections.” The Corps has a duty to protect public water from adverse impacts, but potential environmental impacts have not properly assessed or considered, the suit claims, in violation of the Corps’ environmental protection mission. The lawsuit argues that the Corps, when it approved the Washington state permit, violated numerous environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act.
According to CFS, the permit issued will allow shellfish aquaculture acreage to double to an estimated 72,300 acres, or a third of all the Washington shoreline, including critical spawning and feeding grounds for forage fish, invertebrates, like Dungeness crab, finfish like salmon and green sturgeon, and birds. Many of these species rely on eelgrass and other aquatic vegetation, and eelgrass helps to mitigate the effects of climate change on oceans.
Industrial shellfish aquaculture is known to reduce or eliminate eelgrass with the use of pesticides. Yet the new permit has no restrictions on pesticide use, and the agency refused to examine the impacts of pesticide use on shellfish beds and the surrounding tidal habitat. The permit also allows the unrestricted use of plastics- PVC tubes and plastic netting – that are hazardous to marine organisms and can trap and entangle wildlife.
Commercial shellfish aquaculture is a large-scale industry in Washington state that has significant impacts on the nearshore marine environments, which provide essential habitat for many species, including invertebrates, fish (including herring and salmon), and birds (migratory and shorebirds). Just last month, a new state permit application was submitted to Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) by a group of oyster farmers from the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) that “propose[s] to use the pesticide to treat tide lands to support their aquaculture practices.” They requested the use of the neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, which is known to be toxic to bees and aquatic organisms, raising questions on the impacts of its use on the long-term ecological health of the bays. This followed a nationwide public outcry in 2015 when Ecology approved a permit submitted by the same oyster farmers for the use of imidacloprid to combat burrowing shrimp in these aquatic ecosystems. This 2015 permit was withdrawn.
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. However, shellfish aquaculture impacts the immediate and surrounding environment through physical barriers, impacts to water quality through the deposition of wastes, disruption of sediments, intentional addition of chemical pesticides, and the removal of important and native species and a reduction in biodiversity. Washington is the only state which allows pesticide use on shellfish beds and the new permit for imidacloprid is still pending. Already several organizations and federal agencies voiced concerns over the application of pesticides like imidacloprid to coastal waters.
According to CFS, this is not the first time the Corps’ shellfish permitting has been challenged in court. In 2015, another public interest group petitioned the Corps to stop using the previous version of the current permit and then sued, claiming that the Corps failed to examine or prevent the ongoing and expanding harm to the Puget Sound ecosystem caused by the rapid expansion of industrial shellfish aquaculture.
Beyond Pesticides recently released Poisoned Waterways, a report that documents the persistence of neonicotinoids in U.S. waterbodies and the danger they cause to aquatic organisms, resulting in complex cascading impacts on the aquatic food web. The report also highlights current regulatory failures of EPA aquatic standards, which continue to underestimate risks to sensitive species due to a reliance on test protocols that do not reflect real-world exposures or susceptibilities. Further, the impacts of chemical mixtures and synergistic interactions are not considered. Aquatic standards, which continue to underestimate risks to sensitive species due to a reliance on test protocols that do not reflect real-world exposures or susceptibilities. Further, the impacts of chemical mixtures and synergistic interactions are not considered.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Center for Food Safety