Outdoorsers offer outcry over oyster harvest OK

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

WHARFINGER BUILDING — Outspoken hunters and environmentalists remain staunchly opposed to the two-stage oyster harvesting expansion plan unanimously approved at the end of last month by the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Board of Commissioners.

Although Coast Seafoods has given undertakings to comply with a full roster of measures to ensure minimal environmental effects, critics remain unshakable that the commissioners acted too quickly on Feb. 28. They stood accused of failing to exercise due diligence, neglecting thorough analysis, attenuating the public dialogue and tacitly committing themselves from the start to a predetermined outcome in Coast’s favor.

The Feb. 28 meeting was less of a showdown than the tense, crowded and factious Jan. 19 hearing at Woodley Island. There were fewer public comments from a smaller audience at the Wharfinger Building.

The lower turnout appeared to indicate that at least some opponents had been mollified by the revisions to the project plan since January. Among other things, the changes give an ad hoc advisory panel “stronger teeth” to track environmental impacts and require Coast Seafoods to finance a $40,000 Black Brant monitoring program.   

An irrepressible current of criticism remains, however. A Blue Lake resident who identified himself as Scott Frasier and a member of the nonprofit California Waterfowl Association warned that the decision giving Coast the go-ahead was sowing the seeds of “a prolonged conflict” between the board and the bay’s hunters and environmentalists.

He directed the commissioners’ attention to the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) language that requires the board to make an official finding that the use proposed by the company “is necessary to promote the safety, health, comfort and convenience of the public.”

Frasier declared, “That’s clearly a false statement.” Coast’s oyster project is by no means “literally” necessary, he argued.  

Another member of the public, Ted Rowan, more conciliatory, gently admonished the commissioners that they have a moral and stewardship responsibility to protect the bay’s eelgrass beds from the kind of destruction inflicted by the mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef’s 1,400 mile marine ecosystem, believed caused by warming ocean waters.

Rowan acknowledged “The eelgrass here is very, very abundant” but added, “let’s keep it that way.”

The FEIR states, “There is no predicted net change to eelgrass areal extent under the proposed project.”

Opponent Stephen Rosenberg of Eureka, who has spoken frequently about the venture, said the board had promulgated no formal policy for ruling on projects of this kind, as required by chapter three of its management plan. Absent that policy, commissioners were assuming pretentions to an authority they don’t actually have, Rosenberg contended.

He went on to arraign the commission for failing to provide, in his opinion,  broad enough stakeholder representation in evaluating the Coast Seafoods initiative.

“You’ve modified this project substantially now without adequate time for public review and comment,” he objected. “Same thing for the new commissioner [Stephen Kullmann]; he couldn’t possibly have had time to familiarize himself with this project.”

His voice rising and resorting to invective, Rosenberg accused the commissioners of “cramming this thing through” and serving as instruments of the company’s will. You appear “to have an incestuous relationship with Coast Seafoods,” with the exception of Fourth District Commissioner Larry Doss, he said.  

“If you didn’t know better, you’d think you’re all employees of Coast Seafoods,” he went on acidly. “And then the failure to put the election of the new commissioner to the public: These things are awful.”

Proponents rebuffed the accusations, saying the company has a progressive, symbiotic relationship with the commission, not an interbred one. They are convinced that dexterous adaptive management is fostering a cleaner bay, more environmental monitoring, better aquaculture equipment and less intrusive harvesting practices.

All of this is a boon to small-scale oyster farmers, advocates said, praising the board and Coastal Seafoods partnership in support of environmentally responsible shellfish commerce.

The company’s $40,000 Black Brant monitoring plan will be headed by a qualified ornithologist/ecologist to gauge potential adverse impacts—loss of foraging, for example—of aquaculture operations.

Broadly, project management and operations are to be adapted as ecological research accumulates over an initial three-year period.

Under protocols spelled out in detail in the FEIR, the company must:

  • Conduct herring surveys, under the supervision of a trained biologist, to determine if herring have spawned on eelgrass, oyster long-line culture materials or substrate. If they have, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife must be notified within 24 hours and the company must suspend operations in affected areas.  
  • Operate work boats to minimize the disturbance of sedimentation and avoid propeller scarring of eelgrass.
  • Anchor larger work boats in the channel outside of eelgrass beds.
  • Deploy small skiffs to navigate long-lines in inundated areas where eelgrass is present.
  • Carry out a systematic equipment maintenance program for all vessels to curtail the release of fuels, lubricants, paints, solvents or any other toxic materials in the event of an accident or other mishap.
  • Continue to fuel boats at commercial fuel dock facilities and equip vessels with oil spill absorption pads. Decks are to be seal washed and fueling apparatus is to be isolated prior to fueling, to prevent contaminants from despoiling the water.
  • Avoid the discharge of any feed, pesticides or chemicals, including antibiotics and hormones into the bay.
  • Avoid depositing shells or any other material on the sea floor.
  • Start new shellfish culture plots at least 10 feet from a subtidal channel.
  • Submit by Dec. 1 of each year a current bed map for posting on the Harbor District’s website. The map will depict the locations of all subtidal and intertidal oyster cultures in North Bay.

These stipulations are among dozens governing Coast Seafoods’ support of environmental protection in its every day operations.

In the event of storms, heavy winds or other severe weather, the company is required to patrol all of its active aquaculture areas in search of unmoored or damaged equipment.  Any that is beyond repair must be properly recycled or disposed of at an appropriate onshore facility.

In that same connection Coast will perform quarterly cleanups in partnership with other organizations, including walking portions of the bay and shorelines to retrieve shellfish gear, along with any other trash or refuse, irrespective of its source. The cleanups are expected to cost the company some $15,000 over three years.



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