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Shellfish and Shellfish Farming Are Important Tools to Help Clean Puget Sound

EDITOR'S NOTE: This opinion piece is in response to a previously printed piece by Patrick Townsend. Go to next article for Townsend's brief response.

By Jim Gibbons

The National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences, recognizes that "nutrient over-enrichment is a significant problem for the coastal regions of the US." The Sierra Club makes the same point, pointing out that "excessive nutrients are by far the worst cause of the (Chesapeake) Bay's pollution." We're also now seeing this in Hood Canal and on the verge of seeing it in Totten Inlet. Excessive nutrients largely come from human activities that generate nitrogen, including broken or undersized septic systems, lawn fertilizers, storm water runoff, farm runoff, and pet wastes.

US Geological and NOAA fishery scientists are finding that in the critical summer months, when Hood Canal is having dissolved oxygen problems, these human generated nitrogen sources may be the primary culprit. More importantly, in spite of the tens of millions of pounds of commercially-farmed or nativeharvested Pacific Oysters in Hood Canal, no scientists or environmentalists are pointing to bivalves (like clams and oysters) as a source of the problem! On the contrary, scientists and mainstream environmentalists see bivalves as part of the solution.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has stated that "shellfish are by far the most cost-effective strategy to control pollution." The National Research Council notes that "benthic filter feeders such as oysters, mussels, and many species of clams can have a major influence on the phytoplankton populations in coastal waters" that cause nutrient over-enrichment. According to the Pew Oceans Commission, this is because "filter feeding mollusks can clarify the water by consuming plankton in aquatic systems, significantly improving water quality."

The Puget Sound Action Team has stated that "these filtering and recycling processes are critical in regulating the health of coastal ecosystems," and that "the processes take on even greater importance as human activities and related pollution discharges increase in shoreline areas." Even the EPA has noted that "mollusks are filter feeders and, in some cases, are recommended not only as a food source, but also as a pollution control technology in and of themselves."

Fortunately, we don't have to just rely on the shellfish found in nature to deal with human generated nutrient pollution. Environmental Defense notes that, "One type of aquaculture - mollusk farming - actually reduces nutrient pollution..." The Pew Oceans Commission makes a similar claim by pointing out that "Mussel farms can remove nitrogen from water at a 70% higher rate than occurs in surrounding waters," and perhaps most importantly that, "shellfish farmers are often the loudest advocates for clean water." In fact, to learn more about how your shellfish farmers are working to keep the waters of Puget Sound clean, visit the website of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association at www.PCSGA.org.

Try to remember that if it were not for those mussel farms in Totten Inlet, those geoduck farms slowly spreading throughout South Puget Sound, or all those oyster and Manila clam farms in both Inlets, Puget Sound's waters wouldn't be as clean. While you're at it, you might consider showing your appreciation for what the shellfish industry is doing for Puget Sound by buying some locally produced shellfish.

Jim Gibbons is the President and Founder of Seattle Shellfish, an Olympia based geoduck clam farm operation.

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22