Washington putting shellfish to work

Gov. Chris Gregoire has announced the Washington State Shellfish Initiative, which is intended to promote shellfish farming as a way to improve water quality.

As filter-feeders that sift contaminants and nutrients out of the water, shellfish are the perfect all-natural environmental clean up crew. Washington’s governor wants to put them to work.

“They help us make the water quality better so it’s a hand in hand operation,” she said at Taylor Shellfish. Gregoire was joined in making the announcement by Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Washington leads the nation in shellfish production but right now there are currently about 7,000 acres of tidal flats where shellfish harvest is prohibited because of contamination.

Nutrient loading — which happens when nitrogen from manure and fertilizers gets into the water — causes low-oxygen dead zones. Paul Dye, director of marine conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, said more shellfish beds could mean cleaner water.

“If the industry can grow in Puget Sound in particular we know that it can handle a part of our nutrient pollution problem in the sound,” he said.

The initiative will streamline the permitting process for new commercial shellfish beds. It will also bring in $200,000 from the federal government to fund research on Olympia oysters –- a native species.

The initiative will spend $4.5 million — all of it federal dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency — improving water quality in commercial, tribal and recreational shellfish-growing areas. That money will also be used to help local governments track pollution sources and deal with problems associated with leaky septic systems and livestock polluting waterways.

Gregoire also announced the creation of a panel to develop strategies to better understand and mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on shellfish.

The shellfish industry contributes $270 million to Washington’s economy.

Find more on this and other environmental stories at EarthFix.


Ashley Ahearn, OPB News, 13 December 2011. Article


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