Should the state look for more encroachments on its tidelands?

Maybe it’s just my nature to dislike clouds of uncertainty. I’m always hoping that people will do what they can to blow the clouds away.

Taylor Shellfish Farms faces a $1.3 million assessment for growing shellfish on about 16 acres of state tidelands. This has gone on for years, and it would still be going on if not for a group of folks opposed to a new method of geoduck harvesting used by Taylor. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

I’ve talked about this before in Watching Our Water Ways. Whether it was an innocent mistake by Taylor may be an important question, but I’m just as interested in whether Taylor and other growers may be encroaching onto state tidelands in other areas.

Fran McNair, aquatic lands steward for the Department of Natural Resources, said it is up to shellfish growers and other tideland users to know their boundaries. She said this fine against Taylor could serve as a warning to everyone.

I asked her whether recovering $440,000 for a three-year period — $1.3 million with treble damages — would cause the state to look for other places where private operators are encroaching on state land.

Her response was that the Legislature maintains tight control on the budget for aquatic lands management and she does not have the staff to go out looking for other encroachments. Of course, if anyone knows of any, she would be glad to check them out.

McNair said she can’t even use any portion of the “extra” money recovered from Taylor to go looking for other encroachments — even if money recovered by the effort would fully pay the cost. To take any action would require a legislative appropriation, she said.

In fact, working on the Taylor problem has diverted staff from their normal jobs, she said, and now they are behind on what they should have been doing.

When I ask these questions, everyone tells me that conducting formal surveys of tidelands is very expensive. I guess it is because of the difficulty of getting survey equipment into areas covered by water. My suggestion is to use GPS and other modern equipment to follow the legal boundaries of state property in a boat and see where people might be using state lands without authorization. Folks/ could be off by a few feet in many places, but that’s not where you’d focus further efforts.

Apparently, the state can’t look back more than three years when trying to collect lost revenues. But I suspect that this statutory limit could easily be changed by the Legislature. It also appears that the DNR can’t afford to touch this idea without a legislative appropriation.

State Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, was key to developing a program to remove derelict boats from state waters. Although it’s a costly effort, the DNR is getting the worst of the eyesores and environmental hazards out of the water. And now boat owners are beginning to take care of their own boats, knowing that the state is serious about the problem.

I have no idea how many tideland owners are encroaching onto state lands, but finding the answers to this question has the potential of actually making some money for the state.

16 thoughts on “Should the state look for more encroachments on its tidelands?

  1. WOW! I had no idea the state could make so much money from geoduck farming on state tidelands. If Taylors rent for using a few acres of state tideland for 3 years is $443,850 imagine the revenue the state could make if DNR leased 150 acres for geoduck farming! 80% of those tideland rents go towards restoration of aquatic lands and improving public access to our shorelines (through the “Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, or ALEA). Seems like a pretty innovative way to restore Puget Sound and make it more accessible during tough fiscal times for the state and create jobs while you are at it!

  2. “…DNR is getting the worst of the eyesores and environmental hazards out of the water…”

    Never mind the ‘eyesores’ concentrate on the environmental hazards. Please.

    We – United States – holds the dubious honor of being second place, China is first – worse water pollution in the WORLD.
    India is third.

    Aren’t we proud?! CLEAN UP OUR WATERWAYS. Whatever it takes clean it up. Do not continue to grant easements adding to the pollution…take a stand and hold it. If we have the slightest interest in clean water, a healthy environment.

    If one easement is granted…grant them all….maybe soon then we can beat China and be the #1
    Sharon O’Hara

  3. So let me get this straight…
    shellfish filter and improve water quality
    the shellfish industry provides hundreds of jobs during an economic crisis
    the state could make enough money from leasing tidelands to shellfish companies to help clean up puget sound and provide more public access

    Why is this not happening?
    The shellfish industry should be rewarded for their work in protecting the water quality in Puget Sound. And they do this while at the same time providing much needed jobs in our community.
    It’s not right that these people are being criminalized.

  4. The only problem with aquamarine’s idea is that it’s wrong. Geoduck farming doesn’t restore Puget Sound, it ruins it. The only innovation is in the method of habitat destruction. The fact is, Puget Sound’s tidelands are habitat for commercially valuable fish. The taxpayers are paying billions of dollars to restore salmon habitat whilst aquamarine wants to degrade this habitat for a few bucks by comparison. Outside of salmon, the bottom fishery in Puget Sound is worth millions. The sport fishing industry is worth millions. Tourism is worth millions. The Orca whale watching industry is now a multi million dollar industry. Puget Sound Orca eat salmon, so compromising salmon habitat is not only going to potentially destroy this industry but many others. People need to look at the big picture in the long term, not the short term gain that may benefit very few with geoduck. It’s not even a legitimate food source.

  5. The state always ends up losing money on deals like this, like the Martinez culvert decision forcing the state to pay $100 million dollars to tribes for wrecking salmon habitat. Someone or some industry gets rich at the expense of someone else, and the taxpayers end up paying for the clean up and restoration or paying for the lawsuit later on.

  6. I am a Totten Inlet resident for 25+ years. I have been witness to the Taylor expansion onto State tidelands, which occurred in front of my neighborhood during the past 10 years. All I can say is, “Finally, under pressure, the DNR is listening to us!”
    The Taylor corporations took this once “clean, pristine bay” and in the space of 10 years, not only encroached on 17 more ACRES of state tidelands but they prospered handsomely in the process. The fine imposed is a pittance, even if it sounds like a shocking amount, potentially $1.3 million dollars. We have witnessed several geoduck harvests out in front of us, all on state tidelands over the past seven years. We complained to DNR that Taylor was farming more than their private lot, but were ignored. Worse yet, besides the missed revenue in the millions on the trespassed site, was the total destruction of fish habitat and marine diversity that once flourished here. We who live here have no idea if this area will ever recover from the intensive, extensive, destructive methods of this corporate power.
    I notice some blogs stating that Taylor employs lots of people but that doesn’t seem to fly when we watch them in action. When Taylor removed the geoduck tubes (unplanted) from one area of state tideland that occurred during the marine survey, there was no more than 6 people involved in this process. Then DNR allowed Taylor to remove all the planted oyster bags that were on state tidelands after the survey and prior to their visit – thousands of bags were removed. At any one time, there were only 4 or 5 workers on the beach. We heard the ‘manager’ yelling at these men “Hurry, hurry.” No doubt they had a deadline (the incoming tide and the DNR visit), and I’ll bet they weren’t paid much more than minimum wage for their efforts.
    So when DNR came out here to Totten for their own assessment, there wasn’t much to see except the anchored lines where the oyster bags used to be. They didn’t see the areas where geoduck harvests had already occurred and hadn’t yet been replanted. Good luck in figuring out how much Taylor really reaped from illegally planting and harvesting on state tidelands.
    I guess since DNR is so strapped for help that they have to rely on the public to bring lawbreakers to their attention, we’ll just have to keep whistle blowing. If they would only have listened to us, the “public” sooner, perhaps Taylor wouldn’t be in so much trouble now. It only makes me wonder how many other shellfish entrepreneurs have followed the Taylor lead and also encroached on state tidelands. Looks like the State may have a windfall of penalty money if only they will assess the damages thoroughly. Then surely much of the money collected should be used to restore the ruined habitat left behind by corporate aquaculture.

  7. By the way, geoduck farming as currently practiced essentially violates the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 and the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Management Act of 1991. Geoduck aquaculture takes place in salmon migration corridors and in juvenile salmon rearing and feeding habitat. These areas are documented Essential Fish Habitats and several species of salmon utilizing these areas are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Geoduck anti-predator nets alter feeding patterns of juvenile salmon, which feed primarily on the benthos (copepods, amphipods, gammarids) of the intertidal substrate. Also, the diatoms and interstitial organisms of the bottom substrate are disturbed during harvest. Additionally, there are documented cases of juvenile Bald Eagles becoming trapped in geoduck aquaculture nets. Bald Eagles are still Federally listed as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act. You won’t get these FACTS from the shellfish industry or their proponents. The state does not appreciably benefit from geoduck on private tidelands. Most of the benefits to the state are from sub-tidal wild geoduck harvest. The state would benefit in the short term from intertidal leases, but again, they would be doing so in violation of the SMA, the ESA, and the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

  8. I make a living from shellfish aquaculture harvest and will attempt to rebut some of the statements above.

    Sharon O’Hara states that we have terrible water quality in the US. The shellfish industry, oysters, clams and mussels all help to clean up our waterways by removing nitrogen and other harmful compounds(some will dispute this claim) and serve as an indicator of water quality health. Growers cannot harvest from areas that are too close to marine docks, industrial pollution, fecal pollution. . . . The DOH monitors sites allowed for shellfish growing and a map is on their website.

    Dan is obviously a fisherman. I am as well. Using the example of the Totten Inlet, where much of the geoduck aquaculture is currently ongoing, including the tresspass in this article, the chum salmon are returning in very strong numbers, numbers that have done little but increase since 1997. Pointing an accusatory finger at geoduck aquaculture, an activity that really got going in the 1990’s is wishful thinking at best.

    While we are at it we can lump shellfish aquaculture into the list of activities that occur in the state that are worth millions, right along with orca watching, commercial and recreational fishing. In one estimate the industry is worth $77 million, the majority of which comes from the Puget Sound. This is where I earn my relatively modest salary, working for one of the shellfish companies comes from.

    Blubuster in the past we have agreed on some issues, including the entrapment of bald eagles. At a SARC meeting Taylor shellfish said that they agreed with the Tahoma Audobon to use only small individual tube nets near nesting sites. In other areas they try to use large nets to minimize the risk of tubes escaping from the farm site. Efforts like these need to be raised by responsible citizens like yourself for the industry to work on, like in the case of the entrapment issue. There are reasonable people on both sides of the fence that can reach solutions.

  9. Industry continues to forget that oysters, not geoducks are used for restoration around the world and generally the oysters are not harvested in those restoration areas. If restoration with shellfish is vital, why is DNR continuing to sell millions of pounds of wild subtidal geoducks to Asia each year? While Taylor makes sure they are getting good publicity for agreeing to turn back a few nets for a small amount of time for eagles, no one has documented that it has been done. Of all companies, Taylor has been on every aquatic committee and has actively worked at the legislature for decades. They knew that DNR was not allowed to lease state lands for farmed geoducks until 2006 and they still raised them illegally on state lands to make their $1 million per acre starting back in 1995. Taxpayers are facing a huge price tag for restoration efforts recommended by the Puget Sound Partnership and Bill Dewey (Taylor Shellfish) is on their ecosystem committee. The Puget Sound Partnership recently added in their action agenda that aquaculture is a threat to biodiversity and habitat. It is time that Taylor stop promoting geoduck farming and illegally using state tidelands that modifies the beach substrate and prey that is essential to restore salmon, if they are really the environmentalists they say they are.

  10. Chum salmon are not endangered and have different habits than chinook, coho or steelhead. Chum are the least valuable of the salmonids. There are no data that I know of documenting the chum populations in Totten Inlet before and after the spread of shellfish aquaculture. What is documented is that Puget Sound salmon migrate heavily throughout the Sound, so there are North Sound and Central Sound spawned salmon in South Sound, utilizing South Sound habitat. It is also documented through dietary analysis that juvenile salmon rely primarily on the benthos for feeding. Adult migrating salmon also feed on the benthos, along with insects and forage fish. Shellfish gear is clearly an impediment to feeding and migration of salmon. Fisheries biologists acknowledge this. As to Orca, they frequently come into Case Inlet, ususally during Fall and Winter every year, chasing the Fall and Winter runs of chum.

  11. These forums are a little frustrating because they become a soapbox for the misinformation about shellfish farming, particularly as it relates to health of salmon runs. Posting here is probably futile since it will probably fuel their propaganda machine, but here go’s.

    Geoduck farming is relatively new practice and much of the most important research is just getting underway. There is however preliminary results from the SeaGrant funded UW research on geoduck effects on forage fish and harvest activity impacts, showing very little negative impact on all the environmental issues that have been raised. In fact, the forage fish UW research shows that in the area around geoduck net and tube structures, the gut diversity and abundance of the forage fish which salmon feed on is actually increased. As much as blubuster would like to you believe that gear are an impediment, the evidence is showing exactly the opposite. Shellfish gear acts a refuge and shelter for invertebrates and forage fish, slowly releasing them like a buffet for the salmon and cutthroat. Fly fish a falling tide below a geoduck farm with nets and tubes and this becomes obvious.

    The structure may be aesthetically unappealing to the home owners around it, but to the forage fish and the salmon that feed on them it actually is beneficial artificial habitat. But I am not sure some people will ever agree that a human activity could have a positive ecological impact.

  12. citizen38 … I stated information gotten from a legitimate source – I didn’t make it up, as you imply.

    Scoff if you will that considering every country in the world, only China leads the United States in Organic Water Pollution. US…a progressive country…is second leading water pollution country.

    Following is the URL where I got the information and the post I made concerning the discovery.

    “I feel sickened learning that our country is 2nd to China with India in 3rd place for being the 2nd leading country in the world with the ‘Highest Emissions of Organic Water Pollutants?

    No wonder our whales die, our fish polluted…and who cares?
    When do we take responsibility?”

  13. ‘Your Totten Neighbor Says’ is not conveying accurate information. Covering the intertidal substrate with tubes, nets, and bags, and emulsifying the intertidal substrate with high volume water nozzles WILL NOT improve salmon habitat. There is no science what-so-ever to support this bogus theory. In fact, the Entrix evaluation, a report prepared for Taylor Shellfish, Seattle Shellfish and Chelsea Farms, and prepared by a shellfish farmer, says clearly that juvenile salmon are the most likely to be impacted by geoduck aquaculture. The report never mentions nets at all. Shellfish gear may provide habitat for some species for a short time (then it is removed), but it does not enhance habitat for all fish species, and especially juvenile salmon and flatfish because they feed primarily on the benthos, (copepods, amphipods, gammarids, tube worms, etc.) These organisms rely on the bottom substrate. Juvenile salmon smolts cannot utilize this habitat when it is covered in tubes, nets and bags. That’s just a fact, and facts are stubborn things. The facts and science state clearly that the best functioning habitat is that which has not been disturbed and in which natural biological functions remain intact and undisturbed. Shellfish farming does not improve habitat over nature or God. To suggest that it does is ridiculous. If anyone wants references to the studies on the subject, see:

  14. Totten Neighbor: you need to study up on your fish biology. Juvenile salmon feed on benthic prey. Geoduck tubes and nets prevent fish from accessing this prey. The shellfish industry even refers to tubes and nets as ‘predator exclusion’ devices. Salmon are predators. They’re carnivores – they don’t feed on algae. These ‘devices’ and the harvest methods also disrupt natural prey inputs in the sediment. There is no way Sea Grant is going to agree with you that geoduck farms enhance salmon habitat. Scientists for the South Sound Salmon Recovery Group have already listed shellfish aquaculture as a stressor to salmon populations. The entire intertidal of Puget Sound is all ‘essential fish habitat’ according to the Magnuson-Stevens Act. You’re not going to convince any honest fisheries biologist that geoduck aquaculture is good for salmon.

  15. Considering that Sea Grant just started their study in 2008 and a geoduck harvesting cycle is 5-7 years, it is amazing that you are already reporting that there are minimal impacts. Officials in Washington have for too long taken the word of scientists that worked for the industry and who profit from the expansion of aquaculture. It reminds me of the issue at hand— that we are supposed to believe that with no surveys or bouys marking corners, that Taylor and others are not using state lands to make their millions by exploiting public resources. Also, I bet if DNR checked, there are virtually no wild geoducks left anywhere near the locations that are being used by industry now–and that is called poaching which is a felony if sold for commercial purposes.

  16. Fisheries biologists understand that it took millions of years for Puget Sound salmon to adapt to maximize their ability to thrive in the nearshore habitat, and here we have shellfish aquaculture proponents suggesting that geoduck tubes and nets are better than millions of years of evolution at providing habitat. It’s absolutely absurd, and the credibility of anyone that suggests this should be questioned.

    If geoduck tubes and nets are better than natural habitat, then why are they removed after two years? If they’re so great as fish habitat, they should be left there permanently.

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