Tidelands search: A hunt for truth or Pandora’s box?

Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has decided it is time to see how many private shellfish farms are encroaching on public tidelands.

Goldmark said he made up his mind when he learned that Taylor Shellfish Farms appeared to have crossed a private property line with a geoduck farm and trespassed onto state tidelands in North Bay. If true, it would be the second time that Taylor was caught in such an act. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Long before Goldmark took office in January, groups including the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat were talking about places they suspected trespass was occurring.

When I raised the question last year about using technology to check all state tidelands, officials with the Department of Natural Resources told me they didn’t have the staff to do that. OK, I said, but what if you could show that you could collect enough money to pay the cost through charges for back leases where trespass was taking place. That would not work, I was told, because the revenue does not come back to pay the staff.

It turns out that this statement may have been only half true. Revenues from tideland leases go into the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account. Half the money in the account goes to local entities for restoration and recreation projects. The other half goes back to the DNR for management. If management includes checking boundaries and if the state could collect twice the cost, then the program would pay for itself.

When I made that point this week to Bridget Moran, deputy supervisor for aquatic and agency resources, she downplayed the revenue-generating aspects. With the tight economy and businesses hurting, I guess it wouldn’t look good for the state to focus on cold, hard cash. Because geoduck revenues go into that aquatic lands account, the fund really isn’t hurting anyway.

“Our intent is to make sure the people’s resources are being managed in a sustainable way,” Moran told me. “If through this process we find trespass, we will put that money into the ALEA.”

Moran is new to the job, coming to DNR from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and previously the Department of Agriculture. In my dealings with her, I have found her to be exceedingly capable, and I wish her well in her new high-profile position.

My only suggestion — and this idea comes from Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms — is to communicate well with the growers. Call a public meeting or two to explain what is going on, what is expected of the growers and what the growers can expect from the state.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Pandora’s shellfish basket may still contain a legal bombshell. Taylor Shellfish Farms has advanced a legal theory contending that, in the early 1900s, the state intended to sell the property in Totten Inlet where Taylor was growing geoducks. Under that theory, the state should be forced to correct the “mistake” made so many years ago.

I don’t how legitimate the idea is, but when Taylor and Goldmark settled their dispute out of court, the question went unresolved. If problems are widespread, might one or more disgruntled shellfish farmers raise the theory again?

I have written a lot about this topic of trespass, both in stories and in Water Ways. Check out a previous blog post from May 7, when I listed most of my writings.

18 thoughts on “Tidelands search: A hunt for truth or Pandora’s box?

  1. Just curious… are you supposed to be a journalist of some sort, or are you simply an environmental activist?

  2. John,

    I try to play devil’s advocate, challenging all sides in statements they make. I really try not to take sides, but I like to analyze things as I see them. If you think I cross the line, please let me know. All that I ask is that you be specific, so we can discuss it.

    By the way, you never answered an important question back when we were talking about Olaf Ribeiro. What was the community meeting at which you heard Olaf tell a crowd that no tree should ever be cut down? He was rather offended by your accusations, and I think you owe him an answer.

  3. Whether Devil’s Advocate or Environmental Reporter, can you tell us how much Tribal “co-managers” pay into the costs of these activities?

  4. BlueLight,

    I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are asking. What “activities” are you speaking of? I’m not sure I have an answer, but for now I don’t have the question.

  5. You described a resource management activity.
    You wondered who was going to pay for it.
    Tribes are “co-managers” of the resource.
    Tribes have been given tax advantages and business monopolies.
    Tribes are “entitled” to half of the harvest; half the fruits of these labors.
    My question was, “how much do they pay into the costs of these activities”?

  6. Under the settlement agreement between the tribes and the shellfish growers, tribes have ceded their rights to co-manage commercial shellfish beds.

  7. Under the settlement agreement, I believe, they ceded their right to 50% of the harvest of commercial shellfish operations. I have seen nothing indicating they have “ceded their rights to co-manage”. Can you provide us a link to that documentation?

  8. Under the agreement, commercial growers can plant shellfish on their beaches without having to check with the tribes. Growers can harvest those shellfish without checking with the tribes. Do you believe the agreement says something else about management?

    By the way, do you realize that you said in comment 6, “Tribes are ‘entitled’ to half of the harvest; half the fruits of these labors.” In comment 8, you said, “Under the settlement agreement, I believe, they ceded their right to 50% of the harvest of commercial shellfish operations.” Isn’t this a contradiction?

  9. Christopher,

    Just curious because your blog is the only one that rates a link from the folks at People for Puget Sound.

    As for Olaf Ribeiro, he made the comment at a Rotary meeting on Bainbridge Island in March of 2008. I was astounded by the notion that no tree should ever be cut down and had a lengthy conversation about it with my table mates after lunch.

    John

  10. “Under the agreement, commercial growers can plant shellfish on their beaches without having to check with the tribes. Growers can harvest those shellfish without checking with the tribes.”

    Does this mean that the tribes can harvest 50 percent results of the commercial shellfish operation without a contribution of labor or dollars?
    Sharon O’Hara

  11. Sharon,

    The $33-million settlement agreement with the tribes is designed to allow commercial shellfish growers to manage and fully harvest their own beaches. Without the agreement, tribes are entitled to half the shellfish that would grow naturally on those beaches — as they are for noncommercial beaches.

    Over the past year, I seem to be the only reporter covering the story that focuses on this unresolved question: What constitutes a commercial beach, given the intent as well as the explicit language of the agreement?

  12. Thanks Chris.
    You’ve got an important job…helping educate people like me and keep all of us aware of conditions as they occur, or before they occur.

    Private beaches should not be harvested by anyone not asked by the homeowner. My parents paid tax on their property about fifty years before my mother arranged for the professionals harvesting the neighbors beach, to harvest their beach.

    The professional told Mom that removing all those years of oysters would help the remaining oysters thrive. We weren”t oyster fans.
    Sharon O’Hara

  13. As the only board member from People For Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula, I rely on Chris’ blog and his reporting in the Kitsap Sun to be a non biased view of the news on shoreline and water issues. I don’t consider Chris biased either way, and neither does anyone I’ve talked to on the board or staff. People For Puget Sound is in existence to help restore and protect the waters, which I assume is a common goal of all of us. We work with shellfish growers where our interests intersect, which is that both of our groups are in support of clean water. Taylor Shellfish and us have been very supportive of each other, and our only issue on the table at this time with the shellfish industry is a desire to see more independent science brought to the discussion on geoduck farming, which has changed dramatically in the last thirty years with little public debate until recently as to whether it’s been a good thing for the shoreline environment. Heck, I like to eat shellfish, and geoducks! Most people do.

    It’s been a sad fact of life that some editors, readers, politicians, business and environmental groups, want to see journalism broken into camps of pro vs. anti. That’s the role of the editorial page.

    It’s high time we put aside this worthless arguement of what side a journalist is on, and simply view their output on whether the reporting is based on the old saying that I learned in day one of journalism class in high school, “who, what, when, where, why and how.”

    Thanks for your blog and reporting Chris.

  14. My “tribes are entitled to half…” comment is general in nature and true – absent – a specific ceding as was the case with the commercial plots. However, I do not believe the Tribes “ceded” their co-management role, even in regard to commercial growers. I admit I am not an expert in the shellfish issue, but I would bet that every permit, management plan, etc. submitted by a commercial grower goes to the local tribe for “comment”. Furthermore, I bet these “comments” must be addressed before the permitting agency approves. I don’t think the $33 million bought the commercial growers sovereignty from tribal oversight, I think it just bought them the right to harvest what they sow.

  15. I would like to see you report on the gillnet fisheries in Puget Sound by the tribes. I live on Hood Canal and in November the gillnets are everywhere (if you use Google Earth – look at hoodsport and zoom in – you’ll see gillnets up and down and across the canal from Hoodsport as the pic was taken in November when the chum runs are in). What once was a commercial fishery run by non-tribal members has been replaced by a commercial fishery by tribal members. Its pretty clear the fisheries are in seriously bad shape – often surviving via hatcheries as logging, mining, overfishing have decimated the fish. So now we have artificial supplementation of fish that return to hatcheries, not river systems. The tribes – always holier than thou in the past about how we mistreated ‘their sacred salmon’ are treating the salmon with as much disrespect as non-tribal members did. When will we really be serious about improving the natural (not man made) abundance of fish we used to have? get rid of the nets and we’d have more fish for sure – but the tribes would go nuts. Can they troll catch instead and possibly catch less, limit their licenses to fishermen and get federal subsidies while the fishery rebounds? The tribes have rights and I support their rights – but the fish do too yet all you hear is ‘clean water’ this and ‘shoreline management’ that, while the last 1% of the historical numbers of fish get gillnetted. Hood Canal fishing used to be great and it supported many fish camps and cabins along the canal. What happened? Commercial interests got the fishery and continue to do so. Please – lets stop pulling punches – the nets are not allowing the fishery to rebound. The hatcheries are not helping. They dump so many chum in the canal to support the tribal nets that it must effect the sea run trout and other salmon fisheries. I would liike to see some real critical reporting on the net fishing – they dont support the local economy like a robust wild sport caught fishery can and they don’t help the salmon. Tribes are liars when they say they want whats best – they are just as greedy as our non-tribal forefathers were in my opinion.

  16. Thank you, 8string… You have answered my question. If Chris D is viewed as unbiased and impartial by the board members of a group like People for Puget Sound, it is easy to understand his position in the continuum of impartiality. It’s like Fox News claiming to be “fair and balanced”.

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