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Center for Food Safety Sues Trump Administration to Protect Washington’s Coastal Waters

August 10, 2017
Center for Food Safety

Federal permit for massive shellfish aquaculture expansion will harm tidal ecosystems, human health

Portland, OR—Today, Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Trump administration, through its U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), from greenlighting a massive expansion of industrial shellfish aquaculture in Washington state coastal waters. Industrial aquaculture already threatens Washington’s iconic and invaluable shorelines and bays, which are home to numerous marine species, including endangered salmon. However, the new 2017 permit issued by the Trump administration and now challenged in this case would allow an enormous expansion of the $100-million-dollar-a-year Washington state aquaculture industry, without any marine wildlife or water quality protections for these unique and sensitive ecosystems.

“The Corps’ mission is to protect public waters from harmful environmental impacts, but this permit violates that mission and federal law,” said Amy van Saun, CFS staff attorney, based out of its Pacific Northwest office. “The Corps cannot allow unbridled industrial aquaculture at the expense of Washington’s wildlife and residents. We will hold them accountable to the law and reverse this dangerous approval.”

The permit in question would allow shellfish aquaculture acreage to double to an estimated 72,300 acres, or a third of all Washington shorelines, including critical spawning and feeding grounds for forage fish, invertebrates like Dungeness crab, finfish like salmon and green sturgeon, and birds. Many of these species rely on eelgrass and other aquatic vegetation, and eelgrass helps to mitigate the effects of climate change on oceans. Industrial shellfish aquaculture is known to reduce or eliminate eelgrass, including though the use of pesticides. Yet the new permit has no restrictions on pesticide use, and the agency refused to even examine the impacts of pesticide use on shellfish beds and the surrounding tidal habitat.

“Unlike other pollutants, pesticides kill living organisms by design so are inherently dangerous. They are known to move around in the environment, especially in water, and harm non-target species,” said Dr. Marti Crouch, Ph.D, consulting scientist for CFS.

Neither does the permit restrict the enormous use of plastics by the industry, like the 42,000 PVC tubes per acre covered in plastic netting used to grow geoducks (a type of clam grown almost exclusively for the luxury export market). Netting can trap and entangle wildlife, while the plastics breakdown into microplastics that are hazardous to marine organisms, including the very shellfish being grown for human consumption.

Ignoring these impacts, the Corps’ new permit provides no protections for eelgrass, forage fish, and other species. Mirroring the lack of transparency in the Trump administration in many other contexts, the assessment was secret until after the final decision and even then, failed to explain how the agency would mitigate the permit’s harmful impacts.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Federal Court for the Western District of Washington, argues that the Trump administration violated numerous foundational environmental laws when it approved the Washington state permit, including the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act. In addition, on June 21, 2017, CFS also separately filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue because the approval also violated the Endangered Species Act. 

This is not the first time the Corps’ unlawful shellfish permitting has been challenged in court. In 2015, another public interest group petitioned the Corps to stop using the previous version of the current permit and then sued, claiming that the Corps failed to examine or prevent the ongoing and expanding harm to the Puget Sound ecosystem caused by the rapid expansion of industrial shellfish aquaculture.

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About Center for Food Safety
Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and the environment. Please join our more than 900,000 advocates across the country at www.centerforfoodsafety.org. Twitter: @CFSTrueFood, @CFS_Press

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