Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Coast Seafoods has jettisoned its hard-fought bid to expand oyster and clam cultivation in Humboldt Bay.
In a revised proposal, it is offering as well to shrink its existing farming area.
The Eureka company is seeking approval from the California Coastal Commission for a multi-year extension of beds that would span some 278.6 acres of intertidal and subtidal shellfish culture, versus the current 294 acres for growing Kumamoto and Pacific oysters.
This is a major reversal of the 256-acre expansion the Coastal Commission rejected in early June on a narrow 6-5 vote (Union June 7).
Environmentalists were as split as the commission over the controversial expansion plan.
Under the revised proposal, to be introduced at a commission hearing Thursday, Aug. 10 in Calabasas in the Los Angeles area, the company would plant four test plots to monitor and evaluate the environmental impacts of its culture methods.
The four new farming areas would cover some 12 acres, while 33.7 acres of existing cultivation would be removed.
With the proposed test plots, Coast Seafoods holds out the prospect of expanded farming in the more distant future. The text of its pending proposal states in part, “ ...the intent of the test plots is to monitor and evaluate environmental impacts associated with Coast’s proposed culture methods to inform any future proposal for any additional expansion, which would need to be approved by the Coastal Commission in an amendment to Coast’s Coastal Development Permit.”
All told, the revised request for permit approvals would result in a net reduction of the company’s cultivation footprint of about 21.7 acres.
Coast Seafoods’ existing permits are due to expire Aug. 11.
On Aug. 10, the Coastal Commission will consider extending them through Dec. 31.
Cassidy Teufel, senior environmental scientist for the commission’s energy and ocean resources branch in San Francisco, said in a telephone interview late last week that the company suggested the Dec. 31 deadline. He said it is probable the commission will review the permit extension proposal sometime in September-October-November.
The company has eight years remaining on its current lease, Teufel said, and that might be the duration the commission authorizes if the revised proposal is approved.
The commission’s vote earlier this summer against the 256-acre expansion followed intensive debate. Disputes centered on the potential environmental harm and loss of access to sensitive eelgrass, Black Brant, shorebirds, clams, herring, navigation channels and recreational spaces.
Commissioners who voted no at the June hearing at Humboldt State University said the proposed expansion was too big a leap, with too little scientific underpinning, despite Coast Seafoods’ commitment to extensive environmental monitoring and evaluation.
Foes testified on behalf of Audubon California (which considered the expansion illegal), California Waterfowl, the Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association and the Wiyot Tribe. The tribe objected that Manila clams might become prey to an overpopulation of oysters in their competition for plankton.
Humboldt Baykeeper and independent oyster farmers favored the expansion, backed by the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Board of Commissioners. It had already gone on record early this year in unanimous support.
Like other backers, Jennifer Kalt, Humboldt Baykeeper’s boss, emphasized that oyster farming is vital to maintaining the bay’s excellent water quality and keeping it disease-free. She credited Coast Seafoods as a responsible steward and “a major ally in keeping our water drinkable, fishable and swimmable.”