Thursday, March 7, 2013

At the Water’s Edge: Updated aquaculture online resources

By Cedar Bouta, Environmental Planner, Shorelands & Environmental Assistance Program

Suquamish Tribe’s shellfish nursery raft in Poulsbo marina. Photo by Keri Weaver. Courtesy of City of Poulsbo.

Icicle Seafoods’ net pen at Ediz Hook, Port Angeles.

Chinook salmon. Courtesy of WDFW.
Geoducks in hand. Courtesy of USDA.Aquaculture is the culture or farming of fish, shellfish, or other aquatic plants and animals. It occurs in all types of water bodies – from lakes and streams to Puget Sound and the coast – and includes restoring, planting, growing, harvesting, transporting and selling fish, shellfish and aquatic plants.

Citizens and local governments wanting to learn more about aquaculture science and policies can visit Ecology’s updated online shellfish and net pen resources.

Aquaculture is an historic, water-dependent use of Washington’s shorelines preceding Washington statehood in 1889. Commercial shellfish aquaculture, for instance, has operated in our waters for well over 100 years and finfish net pens for almost 40 years.

Both types of operations are subject to many different federal, state and local regulations.

Shoreline master programs and aquaculture

Several local governments bordering marine waters are updating their shoreline master programs and related permitting requirements for aquaculture. A shoreline master program combines local plans for future shoreline development and preservation with new development ordinances and related permitting requirements.

These local programs must comply with the state Shoreline Management Act, passed by voter referendum in 1972, and related standards, referred to as “guidelines.”

The updating process provides an opportunity for citizens to get involved in shaping the future of their shorelines.

Concerns about aquaculture

Some elected officials and citizens have raised concerns about potential adverse environmental and economic effects from commercial aquaculture – especially geoduck operations and Puget Sound net pen operations raising Atlantic salmon.

Concerns include:
  • Effects on endangered native salmon.
  • Introduction of disease and non-native species.
  • Interference with navigation.
  • Loss of shoreline access and aesthetics.
Many of these issues are addressed through state and federal regulations. Local governments also have the option to require substantial development permits and/or conditional use permits for new commercial aquaculture.

Ecology relies on partner expertise

Based on the best scientific knowledge and advice from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey,Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Washington Department of Natural Resources, Ecology has concluded that when properly sited and operated, commercial net pens are compatible with a healthy marine environment.

On Jan. 10, 2013, Ecology hosted a state and federal employee symposium about the science and management of commercial net pens. We have posted videos from the event.

Ecology is working with cities and counties and using the most relevant science to inform our review and approval of local shoreline program updates. The content of these updated programs will have a strong influence on the future of aquaculture in Washington.

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