Tag Archives: Seafood

With caution, one can avoid the risk of illness when gathering shellfish

If you are planning to gather some shellfish to eat over Labor Day weekend — or anytime for that matter — state health officials urge you to follow the “three Cs” of shellfish — check, chill and cook.

The state’s Shellfish Safety Map shows areas open and closed to harvesting.
Map: Washington State Dept. of Health

At least 10 cases of an intestinal illness called vibriosis have been reported this year to the Washington State Department of Health, all resulting from people picking oysters themselves and eating them raw or undercooked. The disease is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, an organism that occurs naturally and thrives in warm temperatures.

“The shellfish industry follows special control measures during the summer months to keep people who choose to eat raw oysters from getting sick,” said Rick Porso, director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, in a news release. “For those who enjoy collecting and consuming their own shellfish, it’s important that they follow a few simple measures to stay healthy.”

The combination of warm weather, lack of rain and low tides all contribute to the growth of bacteria in oysters growing on the beach.

The state Department of Health uses the “three Cs” as a reminder for recreational shellfish harvesters as well as people who gather shellfish from their own beaches:

  • CHECK: Before heading to the beach, make sure that shellfish in the area are safe to eat. The Shellfish Safety Map, updated daily, will tell you where it is safe to gather shellfish. At the moment, many areas are closed because of paralytic shellfish poison produced by a type of plankton. Unlike Vibrio, PSP cannot be destroyed by cooking.
  • CHILL: Gather shellfish as the tide goes out, so they are not allowed to sit for long in the sun. Put them on ice immediately or get them into a refrigerator.
  • COOK: Cooking at 145 degrees F. for at least 15 seconds should destroy Vibrio bacteria, health officials say. It is not enough to cook them until their shells open.

Symptoms of vibriosis include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and chills. The illness usually runs its course in two to three days. For information see “Vibriosis” on the Department of Health’s website.

Symptoms of paralytic shellfish poisoning usually begin with tingling of the lips and tongue, progressing to numbness in fingers and toes followed by loss of control over arms and legs and difficulty breathing. Nausea and vomiting may occur. PSP can be a life-threatening condition, so victims should seek medical help immediately. For information, see “Paralytic shellfish poison” on the Department of Health’s website.

Besides health advisories, the Shellfish Safety Map mentioned above also includes the water-quality classification, a link to shellfish seasons to determine whether a beach is legally open along with other information,

Demanding international changes to help protect marine mammals

After 43 years and some legal prodding, the United States is preparing to use its economic and political power to protect whales, dolphins and other marine mammals around the world.

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is scheduled to publish regulations that will set up a system to ban imports of seafood from any country that fails to control the killing of marine mammals in its fishing industry.

Photo: Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia Commons

To avoid a ban, foreign controls must be as effective as standards adopted by the United States to reduce the incidental death and injury to marine mammals in the U.S. fishing industry. Harvesting nations that wish to continue selling fish and fish products to U.S. markets will have five years to implement their marine mammal protection programs, if they have not already done so.

When it was first approved by Congress in 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act included provisions that would ban imports of fish caught in commercial fisheries where the “bycatch” of marine mammals exceeded U.S. standards. But the law was largely ignored until environmental groups filed a lawsuit against NOAA two years ago. The lawsuit was eventually settled, with NOAA agreeing to approve new rules by August of this year.

NOAA estimates that 650,000 marine mammals are killed each year in fishing operations. Meanwhile, U.S. consumers obtain 94 percent of their seafood from a growing import market valued at $33 billion in 2013.

“The new regulations will force countries to meet U.S. conservation standards if they want access to the U.S. market, saving thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. government has finally recognized that all seafood consumed in the United States must be ‘dolphin-safe.’”

Comments were made in a joint news release from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Turtle Island Restoration Network — the three groups that brought the lawsuit.

Graphic: NOAA
Graphic: NOAA

The new regulatory program on imports calls on NOAA Fisheries to issue a “comparability finding” after harvesting nations demonstrate that they have a regulatory program that meets U.S. standards for protecting marine mammals. Each program must prohibit the incidental killing or serious injury to marine mammals in all fisheries, estimate numbers of marine mammals on their fishing grounds and find ways to reduce harm if established limits are exceeded.

Over the next year, the regulations call for NOAA Fisheries to request information on marine mammal bycatch from countries that export to the U.S. On a list of foreign fisheries, each fishery will be classified either as “export” or “exempt.” Exempt fisheries are determined to have a remote chance of killing marine mammals, so they are not required to have a regulatory protection program. Those fisheries likely to impact marine mammals and those lacking information about impacts are placed in the export category. All fisheries must prohibit intentional killing of marine mammals to receive certification.

At the end of the five-year period, NOAA Fisheries will publish a list of fisheries that will not receive a comparability finding along with a list of fish banned from import. Those countries will receive information about why they were denied certification and are eligible to reapply at any time. Other details are outlined in a fact sheet from NOAA Fisheries.

The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, a group appointed by the president to advise the government on the Marine Mammal Protection Act, welcomed the long-overdue regulations to protect marine mammals throughout the world, but said the five-year implementation period is too long. See comments, Nov. 9, 2015. (PDF 1.4 mb):

“Inasmuch as this is an ongoing, long-standing statutory requirement, the Commission does not see a legal basis for deferring implementation. To the extent that any delay can be countenanced, it should be kept to the absolute minimum necessary to secure the required information from exporting countries.

“The Commission is concerned that the proposed delay would result in at least another six years during which seafood could continue to be imported into and sold in the United States, despite unacceptably high levels of marine mammal bycatch, unbeknownst to U.S. consumers, and during which U.S. fleets would face unfair competition from foreign fleets with little or no accountability to follow comparable marine mammal conservation measures.”

In 1988, while the U.S. was developing new fishing standards to protect marine mammals, U.S. fishermen were required to report the type of gear they were using and any incidental catch of marine mammals, the Marine Mammal Commission noted. Fishermen also were required to allow observers on their boats while the agency developed stock assessments and new rules to protect various species of marine mammals. Those kinds of interim measures should be required of foreign fleets as well, the commission said.

Among its many comments when the rule was first proposed last year, the commission criticized the plan for placing too much burden on NOAA Fisheries to gather the information, rather than requiring the importing countries to document their protections for marine mammals.

“The Commission further recommends that the final rule clearly specify that nations be issued a CF only if they meet the U.S. standards, rather than be issued a CF unless it is shown that they do not meet the applicable requirements.”

As far as I can tell, the final rule failed to incorporate most of the commission’s suggestions. Still, using the economic and political power of the U.S. to protect marine mammals around the world is a considerable leap.

While the new regulations are expected to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen who must comply with marine mammal protections, we have yet to see the full response from other countries. At some point, a ban on U.S. imports is likely to trigger a challenge based on existing international trade agreements. I haven’t seen much written about the legal implications of the new marine-mammal-protection rules, but we have seen what can happen. Review the article by Mark J. Robertson about “dolphin-safe” tuna rules in a report for the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development.

Map points toward safe — and hazardous — shellfish

A highly informative map, just released by state shellfish officials, can show you at a glance where it is safe to harvest shellfish in Western Washington.

Shellfish_map

Besides pointing out the locations of public beaches where recreational harvesters may safely gather clams and oysters, the new map provides links to information about the approved seasons and limits, with photographs of each beach. One can choose “map” or “satellite” views, as well as enhanced images to simplify the search.

If you wish, you can track down locations by searching for the name of a beach, nearby landmarks or the address. You can obtain the latest information about entire shorelines as well as specific beaches.

The map was created by the Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, a division within the Washington State Department of Health.

Jim Zimny, recreational shellfish specialist at Kitsap Public Health District, said he expects the map to be updated immediately when new health advisories are issued.

“It’s a great resource, very easy to use,” Jim said.

Jim works with state shellfish officials to collect shellfish samples and report results, including findings of paralytic shellfish poison, a biotoxin. Closures are announced when high levels of PSP or dangerous bacteria are found. Hood Canal, for example, is covered with the letter “V,” meaning one should cook shellfish thoroughly to kill Vibrio bacteria, which can lead to intestinal illness.

Since I generally write the geographic descriptions of shellfish closure areas, I can assure you that looking at a map will be a better way to see what is going on.

A news release about the new map points out that the risk of eating shellfish increases in summer. That’s why it especially important in summer to follow the three C’s of shellfish safety: “check, chill and cook.”

Those three C’s refer to checking the map for health closures and looking on the beach for warning signs; chilling the shellfish to avoid a buildup of bacteria; and cooking to 145 degrees to kill pathogens. (Cooking does not destroy PSP and other biotoxins, so it’s important to avoid closed areas.)

For additional information about recreational shellfish harvesting, including a “Shellfish Harvest Checklist,” visit the Department of Health website.

Chinese geoduck ban creates industry turmoil

It was shocking to hear that China had banned imports of clams and oysters from most of the U.S. West Coast, This announcement came after Chinese health inspectors reported high levels of paralytic shellfish poison and arsenic in two shipments of geoducks coming into that country. (KUOW had the initial report.)

Photo: Washington Sea Grant
Photo: Washington Sea Grant

It turns out that one shipment of geoducks came from Poverty Bay near Federal Way in Puget Sound, and the other one came from Ketchikan, Alaska.

Washington state government as well as the state’s extensive shellfish industry pride themselves on a monitoring program designed to ensure that PSP levels for harvested geoducks remain well within safe limits. I frequently report PSP (“red tide”) closures when they occur on recreational beaches — and commercial shellfish are checked even more frequently.

The monitoring program for Washington state shellfish is recognized worldwide for its ability to keep unsafe shellfish off the market.

The initial memo (PDF 33 KB) from the Chinese government said inspectors had found levels of PSP at 30.2 mouse units per gram. Mouse units? I had never heard of such a measurement, although I know that live mice are often used in the monitoring tests. I learned that “mouse units” was an older standard of measurement, replaced by micrograms of toxin per 100 grams of shellfish tissue.

The use of mouse units was the first issue that threw everybody off. I received an explanation from Jerry Borchert of the state’s Office of Shellfish and Water Protection, and I offered this explanation in a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription):

“The Dec. 3 letter imposing the shellfish embargo stated that paralytic shellfish poison was found in concentrations of 30.2 mouse-units per gram. Mouse-units are an older standard, based on the amount of poison it takes to kill a mouse. The more common measurement today is micrograms of toxin per 100 kilograms of shellfish tissue, Borchert said.

“‘We need to know what conversion factors they used,’ he said. ‘Based on the best information we have, which is sketchy, the levels were between 600 and 1,500 micrograms per 100 grams.’

“In contrast, reports on geoducks from the Poverty Bay tract were no greater than 62 micrograms between Sept. 26 and Oct. 24, according to a health investigation completed Friday. The most likely harvest date was found to be Oct. 5.

“Authorities will close an area when the toxin level reaches 80. In fact, the high toxin levels suggested by the Chinese memo might not have been reached in geoducks found anywhere in Puget Sound this year, Borchert said.”

You can read the report, “Investigation and Results Related to the Geoduck Shipment Linked to the Shellfish Import Ban Imposed by China” (PDF 209 KB).

Confusion over the toxin levels found by the Chinese inspectors has created a great deal of anxiety throughout state government and the shellfish industry in Washington state. Nobody wants to say that the Chinese made a mistake, especially when the only data available is a terse finding in a memo (PDF 33 KB) transmitted to U.S. authorities. In fact, everyone I have talked to has been careful not to say anything negative at all until the facts are all in.

The chance that the shellfish exported to China exceeded the international standard of 80 micrograms per 100 grams seems possible, given that samples sent to state officials reached 62. That could invoke a response, even though the action level of 80 is considered within a significant margin of safety. But if the Chinese inspectors are reporting toxin levels higher than 600, that raises other issues.

What about poaching? I think it would be hard to rule out the possibility that somebody illegally sold geoducks from another area where PSP levels were higher and said they were from Poverty Bay. Whether that could happen depends, at least in part, on how well officials are able to track the geoducks through the market.

John Weymer of the Puyallup Tribe told me that officials were able to track the geoducks in question back to a specific boat working in Poverty Bay. Since it was a harvest by the Puyallup Tribe, tribal inspectors were on hand to make sure that the harvested geoducks were accounted for until sold to an independent buyer, he said. There is no doubt, he added, that the geoducks sold from the bay in October met health standards.

Although numerous areas of Puget Sound showed toxin levels above 80 micrograms in some types of shellfish, I’m told that the number of areas that reached 600 to 1,500 in geoducks were rare, if that happened at all. Such a finding would create more doubt about the accuracy of the Chinese testing.

One of the things I wondered about was whether the Chinese could be acting in retaliation for ongoing U.S. actions regarding the safety of foods imported from China. Bans on Chinese chicken were imposed and then lifted, amid Chinese complaints to the World Trade Organization. Questions of food safety have become entangled in issues of fair trade between the two countries.

I’ve raised this question of a trade battle with several people. Most tell me that if this were a trade issue, the Chinese would have used the opportunity to make a political statement. Instead, the Chinese memo was limited in scope, although the financial impact to the Washington shellfish industry could be significant.

Some people are quietly speculating that the Chinese have taken this action to manipulate prices. If geoduck harvesting is shut down in Washington state, the price of wild geoducks from the U.S. will drop and markets will improve for Canadian and Mexican geoducks. I’m told that the Chinese can make more money operating in those countries, although I have been unable to verify that so far.

Amusing Monday: Getting out of an oyster stew

I was looking about for some jokes and stories involving shellfish, mainly about clams and oysters with maybe a few quips about mussels. All I could find was either too raunchy, too childish or just plain lame.

What I did discover on YouTube, however, is that clam chowder is funnier than clams, and oyster stew is funnier than oysters.

First, in the video player at right, is “The Clam Chowder Song” by Thessaly Lerner, whose comedy is all over the place, including a series of bits she calls Ukulady, geared mainly for kids.

You may have seen this Progresso soup commercial on television. And if you’re a fan of Jim Carrey, you’ll recall this moment from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

A classic seafood battle is Curly’s skirmish with the oyster in a Three Stooges comedy that I remember from years ago. I was happy to find it posted on YouTube with context from the story. If you want to skip directly to the oyster part, you’ll find it at 1:45.

While not about oyster stew, I found a poster I want to share for the oddity of it all (below). The poster is one of three used in an ad campaign to raise awareness about the plight of the homeless. The campaign, launched by the German magazine “Biss,” shows one person inside the shell of a snail, another inside the shell of a turtle and a third inside the shell of an oyster a clam. Below each image are the words, “Nature doesn’t provide everyone with a home.” See AdPunch for details.

Although I wasn’t able to locate enough worthy shellfish jokes to share, you may find some amusement in previous “Amusing Monday” postings about shellfish:

“The fear of seafood”

“Geoducks are serious business”

“Geoduck companion appears on ‘Prairie’”

“Ivar knew how to clam it up”

Let’s keep an eye on the shellfish initiative

It is interesting to contemplate how the new National Shellfish Initiative, announced in June, and the Washington Shellfish Initiative, announced last week, could change things in Puget Sound.

Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District collects a dye packet from Lofall Creek in December of 2010. This kind of legwork may be the key to tracking down pollution in Puget Sound.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

As I described in a story I wrote for last Saturday’s Kitsap Sun, the principal goals are these:

  • Rebuild native Olympia oyster and pinto abalone populations.
  • Increase access to public tidelands for recreational shellfish harvesting.
  • Research ways to increase commercial shellfish production without harming the environment.
  • Improve permitting at county, state and federal levels.
  • Evaluate how well filter-feeding clams and oysters can reduce nitrogen pollution, with possible incentives for private shellfish cultivation.

To read more about the initiatives, check out:

One of the most encouraging things is an attempt to expand Kitsap County’s Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program to other counties, with increased funding for cleaning up the waters. Check out the story I wrote for last Friday’s Kitsap Sun, in which I describe the search-and-destroy mission against bacterial pollution.

As most Water Ways readers know, I’ve been following the ongoing monitoring and cleanup effort by the Kitsap County Health District for years with the help of Keith Grellner, Stuart Whitford, Shawn Ultican and many others in the district’s water quality program. In fact, just two weeks ago, I discussed what could be a turnaround for a chronic pollution problem in Lofall Creek, a problem that has taken much perseverance to resolve. (See Kitsap Sun, Dec. 2.) Unfortunately, the story is far from over.

I’ve talked about the importance of old-fashioned legwork in tracking down pollution, and I’ve suggested that other local governments use some of their stormwater fees or implement such fees for monitoring of their local waters. See Water Ways, June 30, for example.

Water free of fecal pollution has benefits for humans and other aquatic creatures. Thankfully, Washington State Department of Health’s shellfish program is careful about checking areas for signs of sewage before certifying them as safe for shellfish harvesting. Maybe the new shellfish initiative will allow the state to open beds that have been closed for years. That’s what happened in Yukon Harbor, where more than 900 acres of shellfish beds were reopened in 2008. (See Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25, 2008).

Certifying areas as safe for shellfish harvesting means that waterfront property owners are safe to enjoy the bounty of their own beaches. It also offers an opportunity for commercial growers to make money and contribute to the state’s economy.

Of course, this does not mean that intensive shellfish-growing operations ought to be expanded to every clean corner of Puget Sound, any more than large-scale crop farming or timber harvesting should be allowed to take over the entire landscape.

Some environmentalists have expressed concern that the Washington Shellfish Initiative could become a boondoggle for commercial shellfish growers. Laura Hendricks of the Sierra Club’s Marine Ecosystem Campaign sent me an e-mail noting these concerns about the expansion of aquaculture:

“Washington State has more native species listed as endangered than any other state in the USA. We see no mention of the adverse impacts in this initiative on nearshore habitat, birds and juvenile salmon.

“Governor Gregoire and the various speakers failed to mention that ALL of the pending shoreline aquaculture applications they want to ‘streamline’ are for industrial geoduck aquaculture, not oysters. Red tape is not what is delaying these applications…

“Shellfish industry lobbyists who pushed for this expansion are silent on the following three serious threats to our fisheries resources, forage fish, birds and salmon:

“1. Shellfish consume fisheries resources (zooplankton — fish/crab eggs and larvae) according to peer reviewed studies. A DNR study documented that forage fish eggs did not just stay buried high on the beach, but were found in the nearshore water column. Continuing to allow expansion of unnatural high densities of filtering shellfish in the intertidal “nursery,” puts our fisheries resources at risk.

“2. The shellfish growers place tons of plastics into Puget Sound in order to expand aquaculture where it does not naturally grow…

3. Mussel rafts are documented to reduce dissolved oxygen essential for fish and are known in Totten Inlet to be covered in invasive tunicates with beggiatoa bacteria found underneath…”

Ashley Ahearn of KUOW interviewed Laura Hendricks, and you can hear her report on EarthFix.

In her e-mail, Laura recommended the video at right. She also pointed to a blog entry by Alf Hanna of Olympic Peninsula Environmental News. Hanna suggests that environmental advocates who go along with commercial aquaculture may become the oysters that get eaten in Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

Have intensive shellfish farms in Puget Sound gone too far in their efforts to exploit the natural resources of our beaches? Can shellfish farmers make money without undue damage to the environment? Which practices are acceptable, which ones should be banned, and which areas are appropriate for different types of aquaculture?

It would have been nice if these answers were known long ago, and in some cases they are. But at least this new shellfish initiative recognizes that more research is needed to answer many remaining questions. Research is under way in Washington state on geoduck farming, which involves planting oyster seed in plastic tubes embedded into the beach. Review “Effects of Geoduck Aquaculture on the Environment: A Synthesis of Current Knowledge” (PDF 712 kb) or visit Washington Sea Grant.

Other research in our region is needed as well, although it is clear that environmental trade-offs will be part of the deal whenever commercial interests cross paths with natural systems. For a discussion about this issue, check out the executive summary of the NOAA-funded publication Shellfish Aquaculture and the Environment (PDF 4.2 mb), edited by Sandra E. Shumway.

Needless to say, we’ll be keeping an eye on this process for years to come.

Fraser sockeye coming home like gangbusters

UPDATE; Tuesday, Sept. 14

This will be my last update on this year’s Fraser River sockeye run, as the run has begun to tail off and increases in the estimates have been slight the past two weeks.

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 28 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, 3.8 million; summer-run, 5.2 million; and late-run 25.4 million. The late-run is now more than three times higher than the preseason prediction, and the total runsize estimate now stands at 34.5 million.

Please read the rest of this blog entry for how this situation developed.
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UPDATE; Wednesday, Sept. 1

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 37 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, unchanged at 3.7 million; summer-run, unchanged at 4.8 million; and late-run Shuswap/Weaver, 24 million, up from 20 million.

The entire Fraser River run is now estimated at 34 million, the highest run size since 1913, when experts estimated the run to total about 39 million. The late-run Shuswap/Weaver sockeye, which are in their dominant year, are now three times the preseason estimate.
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UPDATE; Friday, Aug. 27

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 198 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, 3.7 million, up from 3.2 million; summer-run, 4.8 million, up from 4.5 million; and late-run, 21.4 million, up from 17.2 million.

The entire Fraser River run is now estimated at 30 million, the highest run size since 1913, when experts estimated the run to total about 39 million.
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UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 26

Latest numbers from the Fraser River Panel (PDF 198 kb): Early-summer-run sockeye, 3.2 million, up from 2.9 million; summer-run, 4.5 million, up from 4.0 million; and late-run, 17.2 million, up from 12.1 million.

The total run of Fraser River sockeye is now predicted to be 25 million fish, which compares to 1.9 million total for last year. This year’s run is the largest since 1913, according to the news release.

By the way, Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton does a nice job reporting on the personal and economic effects of the big sockeye run.
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UPDATE: Friday, Aug. 20

The Fraser River Panel today released new runsize estimates for sockeye. See news release (PDF 198 kb). The latest numbers have increased from 2.6 million to 2.9 million for early-summer-run sockeye; from 3.3 million to 4.0 million for summer-run; and from 8 million to 12.1 million for late-run. We are now seeing predictions that far exceed preseason estimates.
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When it comes to Fraser River sockeye, a single year can make all the difference in the world.

Lummi tribal fishermen use a purse seine to catch Fraser River sockeye salmon in the San Juan Islands.
Photo courtesy of Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Last year at this time, I commented in Water Ways about the mystery of the missing Fraser River sockeye and the economic disaster wrought by the abysmally poor runs. Preseason forecasts of 10 million sockeye washed out with a return around 1.9 million.

This year, all kinds of fishermen seem overwhelmed with excitement as large sockeye runs return to the Fraser, the longest river in British Columbia.

Kelly Sinoski, a reporter for the Vancouver Sun, described how fishermen were laughing with joy. She quoted Julius Boudreau, a commercial fisherman in Port McNeill:

“It’s out of the ordinary. The catches have been way more than the quota. It’s crazy. We’re seeing thousands and thousands of fish.”

I placed a call to Tim Tynan of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who works with the Pacific Salmon Commission as the U.S. representative on the Fraser Panel. He reminded me that we are seeing the Adams-dominant cycle this year, a typically strong return that comes around every four years and is associated with Adams River and Lake Shuswap, which is located in the middle of the Fraser River watershed near Kamloops.
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Industry dollars will operate McKernan Hatchery

Last week, I reported that the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association has come forward with $158,000 a year to maintain the operation of the McKernan Hatchery near Shelton.

The hatchery, which produces 40 percent of the chum salmon in Hood Canal, was scheduled to close July 1 unless a private entity stepped up to run it. Three groups offered proposals, and the arrangement will allow state hatchery workers to keep doing their regular jobs. See my story in Friday’s Kitsap Sun for details.

Two questions came up in comments at the bottom of the story: Why doesn’t the state rear coho, chinook or other more valuable fish at McKernan? And why does the state continue to allow these kinds of production hatcheries to continue, considering impacts on wild salmon?
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A sense of dread looms over Gulf tonight

I’ve been in a mild state of shock since I first heard about the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. I can’t begin to imagine the devastation that will take place once this oil starts washing ashore tonight in the fragile salt marshes along the Louisiana Coast.

When I think about the prospect of a ship or oil tanker crashing in Puget Sound, I consider the oiled birds that die, along with affected seals and potentially killer whales. I think of the food web being poisoned. As horrible as that would be, we are talking about a finite amount of oil — because a ship or tanker can hold only so much.

On the other hand, the best experts working in the Gulf of Mexico can’t seem to stop the oil coming out of the seabed, 5,000 feet down. Now officials are saying the spill could be 200,000 gallons a day or more.

How long will the spill continue? That depends on the success of several options for shut-off, from valves that aren’t working right now to a domelike device to trap the oil, to a new shaft drilled down to intercept the old one. It could take months to shut off the oil.

Yesterday, Times-Picayune reporter Bob Marshall wrote of the more than 400 species of animals — including dozens of threatened and endangered species — that could be injured or killed by oil before this event is over.

The area under threat produces the largest total seafood landings in the lower 48 states, including 50 percent of the nation’s wild shrimp crop, 35 percent of its blue claw crabs and 40 percent of its oysters.

Oil Spill Video: Reporters explain status

Marshall quoted Melanie Driscoll of Audubon, bird conservation director for the Louisiana Coastal Initiative, who was clearly worried: “This is a really important time for so many species in this ecosystem, because they’ve just begun spawning and nesting.”

Marshall along with reporter Chris Kirkham of the New Orleans newspaper did a great job explaining the latest information on video. Check out the video player, above right, in which they interview each other.

As the spill continues and oil gets closer and closer to shore, a sense of dread is coming over everyone who understands what oil can do to birds and wildlife. This disaster could eclipse the devastation of the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

“It is of grave concern,” David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The Associated Press. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”

Maybe it’s too soon to talk about politics, what with 11 people dead and an environmental disaster looming, but I can’t escape the fact that a month ago President Obama called for a renewal of offshore oil drilling.

Here’s what Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said on March 31:

“By responsibly expanding conventional energy development and exploration here at home we can strengthen our energy security, create jobs, and help rebuild our economy. Our strategy calls for developing new areas offshore, exploring frontier areas, and protecting places that are too special to drill. By providing order and certainty to offshore exploration and development and ensuring we are drilling in the right ways and the right places, we are opening a new chapter for balanced and responsible oil and gas development here at home.”

Today, White House officials are saying the oil spill in the Gulf could change their energy policy. According to a report from Patricia Zengerle of Reuters, this is what spokesman Robert Gibbs said about Obama’s views given the Gulf disaster.

“Could that possibly change his viewpoint? Well, of course. I think our focus right now is: one, the area, the spill; and two, also to ultimately determine the cause of it and see the impact that that ultimately may or may not have.”

And from Carol Browner, Obama’s policy adviser for energy and climate:

“Obviously this will become, I think, part of the debate; that goes without saying. But I don’t think it means that we can’t get the kind of important energy legislation that we need.”

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), urged people to keep the spill in perspective, according to a story by Greenwire reporter Mike Soragham in the New York Times:

“I hope it (the crisis) will not be used inappropriately. We cannot stop energy production in this country because of this incident. If we push exploration off our shores … but force other people to produce it, they will be in regimes and places where there aren’t these kinds of equipment, technology, laws and rules.”

Federal aquaculture policy talks are tonight

Washington state, Puget Sound and the Kitsap Peninsula are known for their aquaculture. Commercial oyster beds in Hood Canal, geoduck growing areas in Case Inlet and salmon farms off Bainbridge Island are among the many aquaculture facilities that we have.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recognize the tremendous economic value and potential of aquaculture projects throughout the country — including offshore facilities. The potential for feeding large numbers of people is part of the equation.

On the other hand, the potential for overrunning our natural ecosystems is a serious concern.

Now, NOAA is seeking comments about what people think should go into a national aquaculture policy. The agency will hold a public meeting tonight from 6 to 8:30 at Seattle Aquarium to discuss concerns and potential goals and policies. I’m hoping that the people who turn out on both sides of the issue understand that there is a need for balance. (I won’t be able to attend, since I’ll be covering the first meeting of the task force on Kitsap County’s shorelines plan, but I’ll look for reports of the meeting.)

For extensive information on this effort, check out the website for NOAA’s Aquaculture Program.

In 2007, NOAA released a “10-Year Plan for Marine Aquaculture,” which concludes with four goals:

  1. A comprehensive regulatory program for environmentally sustainable marine aquaculture, which includes new permits for operations in federal waters
  2. Development of commercial marine aquaculture and replenishment of wild stocks, which includes research and investment incentives
  3. Public understanding of marine aquaculture, including an outreach plan
  4. Increased collaboration and cooperation with international partners, including a code of conduct for responsible fisheries

Among the issues identified for discussion and consideration:

  • Contaminants in seafood — such as PCBs, mercury, and pesticides. Some of these come from the food given to the animals
  • Use of artificial coloring to tint animal flesh
  • The spread of parasites and contagious diseases from captive animals to wild ones
  • Excreted waste from the captive animals
  • The environmental costs of using large quantities of wild animals to feed captive animals
  • Escape of genetically modified animals into the wild
  • Impacts on threatened and endangered species
  • The accidental trapping of predators in the nets that form aquaculture enclosures
  • Selection of suitable aquaculture sites
  • Climate change and ocean acidification
  • Jurisdictional overlaps with agencies such as Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers
  • Direct and indirect effects on aquaculture products from other countries regarding issues such as quantity, quality, and toxicity, industry practices, costs and economic viability and trade agreements