Association for the Protection of Hammersley, Eld and Totten Inlets
in South Puget Sound, Washington


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Frequently Asked Questions


1.  How will global warming affect aquaculture?

Who knows?  With rising sea levels and more frequent and stronger storms, it seems likely that rafts used for aquaculture will likely break apart, spreading their product and raft debris all over the area.  Oyster bags and mussel raft flotation materials also get loose resulting in beach litter and hazards to navigation.  There may be problems with how warmer temperatures affect some species...explosion of some species or the extinction of others.  Someone should be studying this.

2.  Aren't mussels good for the water, filtering out stuff?

That depends on who you ask.  Mussels filter enormous quantities of seawater, as do clams, oysters and geoducks.  What is not known is how many species share the same sized diet and type of phytoplankton within a given body of water.  They should not be expected to filter out contaminants - would you want to eat shell fish that was so contaminated?  One cannot use the appearance of algae to answer the phytoplankton dietary question because shellfish eat microscopic phytoplankton.  The larger the geoducks, mussels, etc. grow, the larger their appetites become.  At what point does the whole system collapse upon itself because there isn't enough nutrient to sustain them all?  There is no such thing as a free lunch, and yet the science community seems reluctant to ask and answer the more important question.  The only measure that is used is the degree of fatness of the animals grown for market - if Mr. A's mussels are 'big and fat' and Mr. B's oysters are not as fat as they were the previous year and that trend continues until Mr. B no longer has a crop, then that gives a clue.  Additionally, no one studies the impact on animals down the chain that are not marketable.

3.  I used to be able to get to the water from the shore, but now it is so heavily planted with nets, oyster bags, tubes and such, that I wonder if it is safe to walk through these?

If the owner of the tidelands gives you permission to use his/her beach for access, and the beach has such items as mentioned, you run the risk of injury.  Oyster bags are held down with metal spikes or sharp metal clips, and if one falls onto them, the risk of impalement can be substantial.  Tripping over nets and tubes can also occur.  Shoreline that is rented to aquaculture companies is likely a do not trespass zone.

4.  So how do I get to the water from land?

Probably by boat, from a marina or boat launch.

5.  If I am boating in the South Sound at high tide, and my boat breaks down, how do I get from the water to shore safely if I don't know where the aquaculture plantations occur?

Good question.  Very carefully!!  The geoducks in tubes and the oyster bags are so closely packed in some areas that there is little to no room to land a boat on the beaches.

6.  I thought only the Army Corps of Engineers could do dredging.  When the inter-tidal geoducks are harvested, aren't they being dredged.

Sure looks like it.  If it looks like a duck... and walks like a duck....Aquaculture companies do a form of dredging called water jet harvesting to remove the geoduck from the silt or sand.  They also clear out shell debris from under the rafts by a form of dredging.

7.  After they finish harvesting geoduck, will the shoreline be the same as it always was?

Good question.  That may depend on the type of sediment, whether it is rock or silt, and what substrate it sits on.  The science hasn't been done to determine how soon  the different types of sediment return to "normal".  Likely, some of the benthic community will be damaged or killed, but no one knows exactly what the biological damage will be.

8.  It looks like there are geoduck farms all over the Puget Sound region now.  Where do all those geoducks go?

To Asia, mostly Japan and China right now.  In some restaurants, patrons are charged the equivalent of $100 a plate for geoduck.  That is why it is called a Cash Crop.  Most of the single shell oysters and mussels are also air-freighted over there..

9.  Aren't the inlets of Washington State supposed to be for the public to use?

Yes.  The water is.  The Public Trust Doctrine holds these waters for the public, allowing multi-use of the water.  This doesn't give the shellfish industry exclusive use.  The inter-tidal zone .... probably not.  Thirty percent of the inter-tidal zone is held by the state, the rest is in private hands.

10.  I live in Mason County, and I heard there are tunicates in Gallagher Cove on the Thurston County side of Totten Inlet.  What are they, are they bad and can they be eradicated before they get over to my side of the bay and contaminate my boat?

Sorry.  The water is an excellent medium for transport.   The tunicates are probably already over on your side of the bay.  Tunicates are primitive marine animals having sac-like bodies, often referred to as sea squirts, because they do squirt when touched.  When they proliferate, they form a dense mat over something hard, like pilings, boat bottoms, and shellfish, especially submerged mussels.  If they choose to live on shellfish, they seem to smother the clustered shellfish and out-compete the shellfish for food.  These particular tunicates are also non-natives.

11. How did tunicates get into Totten Inlet?  They are supposed to be found in ballast water from ships, but we have no ships in Totten.

There are a few commercial vessels in Totten - mostly aquaculture barges and other related types of vessels.  Oyster barges do have ballast water.  Perhaps the tunicates floated in on the tide.  However, at this point, they are only found on hard substrates on and near the mussel rafts in Gallagher Cove below water level; they are also found on boats that have been in the water for a few months, usually attached to mussels.  Those mussels seem to have even displaced most of the barnacles.

12.  What exactly is displacement and has this occurred on Totten shores?

Displacement occurs when one species becomes dominant (i.e. planting excessive numbers, food competition for same diet, or removing predators) and crowds out other species that lived in the area prior to their arrival.  Those of us who have lived on Totten Inlet for many years can attest to the following: once there was the native Olympia oyster, which was displaced by a Japanese variety of oyster brought in for production; along with that came the oyster drill, a parasite (it is a small marine mollusk adapted for boring holes into oyster shells),  which spread all over the oyster growing region throughout the state because of depuration techniques.  Depuration in this sense meant moving oysters from an area with water quality problems into CLEAN Totten Inlet waters to purge for several weeks...then the oysters are ready for market.  Then mussel rafts appeared in quiet coves, and the finfish that were there vanished.  Walking along the shore, we once had lots of barnacles and oyster drills, but these seem to be disappearing also - their numbers are amazingly diminished.  Perhaps the bag culture of oysters is responsible for this.  There are fewer sand dollars, fewer otters, fewer seals, fewer seagulls, fewer ducks - but there are a lot more geoducks, mussels (separate from the rafts) and oysters grown in bags.  All species play a role in a healthy ecosystem; where diversity is stripped away, the entire food web suffers.

13.  What is all that brown silt on the oyster bags, and why is my gravely beach turning silty?

If you have lots of shellfish growing nearby, like with massive plantings of geoducks or mussels, likely the silt is the feces from the shellfish.  Aquaculture literature backs up that description perfectly.

14.  What lessons has APHETI learned during its ten year fight?

A.            A well-organized community based group can be successful in working with  County and State government agencies to fight this type of proposal.

B.           County governments do not communicate with each other.

C.          State agencies often have conflicting mandates.

D.           State and county agencies lack resources for oversight of aquaculture operations.

E.            State and county agencies often ignore citizen complaints against the aquaculture industry.

F.            A double standard exists from what counties will allow for aquaculture industries and what what they allow for the average land-based citizen.

G.           Notification to community members of aquaculture development is limited or non-existent; communities must stay abreast of commercial development of our bays and shores.

H.           Legislation promoting aquaculture is adopted without science to guide decisions.

I.             The aquaculture industry has a strong lobby and has passed laws to protect itself.  Learn the laws. Better yet, designate a committee to study the laws and be vigilant to new laws that keep cropping up.

J.            Environmental Impact Study (EIS) decisions place the burden of proof on the aquaculture industry’s scientists, who are paid by those aquaculture companies.  Non-biased scientists hired by the government should be the ones conducting the studies, to ensure not only fairness, rigor, and  that the studies are done in a timely fashion.

K.           Fighting using scientific arguments can be successful.  Fighting because of visual aesthetic issues is very difficult.  Such has been the experience of the folks at Penn Cove with regards to mussel farming in that area.  Aesthetics is mostly subjective, where science should be objective.

L.           It appears that state agencies exclude the public when the bidding processes come up for “selling” tidelands.  The aquaculture industry learns of the sales, but no one else.  Had shoreline residents been notified of impending sales, there would likely NOT be the same type of intensive farming practices that are occurring today.

M.       Shellfish aquaculture behaves just like point-source pollution due to shells, waste, and escapement with subsequent colonization.  Unwanted mussels growing on someone's boat becomes a nuisance and a biological pollutant.  However, our Court system disagrees (APHETI vs. Taylor Resources).

N.        Non-native species such as Mytilus galloprovincialis mussels do hybridize with native mussels and have the potential to wreak havoc in certain ecosystems given the right conditions.

O.        Carrying capacity studies are not done prior to massive shellfish plantings.

P.           Discrepancies can exist regarding tidal flushing rates between the aquaculture industry and oceanographers.

Q.        Dredging and water jet harvesting is very disruptive to sensitive species; the latter is the preferred method of harvesting for geoducks.  While the sediments may seem to settle out over a few weeks, it may actually take a few months; the benthic community that was disturbed may never recover.  The kill rate after a harvest has not been studied.  Biologists worry that something in the food chain of Puget Sound leaves young salmonids without enough food.  If lower life forms and their habitats are destroyed, so will go the way of finfish.  If there is any connections between the destruction of marine inter-tidal habitat by the shellfish industry and declining finfish, this should be a high priority for the science community to study before finfish are eliminated beyond recovery.

R.        Massive, intensive planting of bivalves may upset the balance for other marine organisms; bivalves do filter their food from the water, but at what cost to other organisms that share the same diet?  For example, massive overproduction of mussels has led to failure of the whole crop in Spain several years ago.  The abundant phytoplankton was not enough to feed these aggressive filter feeders, let alone the benthic community.

S.           Aquaculture farms are using up every possible space to grow their products.  In some areas, there are geoduck beds in the deep inter-tidal, oyster bags a little higher up on the inter-tidal shore, and then clam beds with netting adjacent in slightly different habitat.  Once every bit of inter-tidal zone is used up, is massive raft culture in the sub-tidal zone next?  That is how things are done in Hiroshima Bay, Japan, so why not here?



©APHETI  2005 - 2013

Please send questions or contact us at apheti@gmail.com