What’s Next for Oysters in the Bay?

Eelgrass, growing in Humboldt Bay, is one of the sensitive species the California Coastal Commission did not feel was adequately protected by Coast Seafood’s EIR. [Photo by Elias Elias]

In a surprising 6-5 vote last June 7th at Humboldt State University the California Coastal Commission rejected Coast Seafood’s proposed oyster cultivation expansion plan, citing incomplete science and inadequate monitoring plans in the Environmental Impact Report certified last winter by the Humboldt Bay Harbor and Recreation and Conservation District.

Delighted by the news, Audubon California’s Marine Program Director Anna Weinstein said, “It’s very rare for the commission to vote against its own staff report,” referring to the coastal commission’s staff report that was being modified right up to the eleventh hour prior to the June 7 meeting. Last minute changes were made to address concerns from a number of scientists and recreational users of the bay who were not satisfied with the report’s modifications and recommendation for approval.

“This is a huge blow to the oyster industry on Humboldt Bay,” said Jack Crider, executive director of the harbor district. “I’m not sure that the members who voted ‘no’ realize what they have done.”

Pacific Herring, whose spawn on eelgrass is critical to Brant survival and an indicator of overall Bay health [Photo from wikicommons]

According to Crider, Coast spent $2 million addressing the issues encountered by its proposed expansion plan, including threats to a number of sensitive bay species such as Black Brant, eelgrass, Pacific Herring and Green Sturgeon. But in the end, the commission was not satisfied that the monitoring plans to be undertaken would be able to adequately assess damage not only to the specific sensitive species but to the cultivation area as a whole ecological system whose diversity and health is still in recovery from the former oyster growing practices of destructive dredging discontinued in the 1990s.

Crider feels this decision sends a “big signal” to the oyster growing industry and will serve to dissuade other growers from considering Humboldt Bay for their operations. A signal like this “goes out as a message to the industry not to invest here,” he said.

As far as the pre-permitting process developed by the district and funded by Headwaters monies to help small independent growers enter into operations on the bay, Crider said he will not be investing any more time in the program, claiming the Commission’s decision portends further permitting obstacles. Of areas in the Bay less involved with sensitive species, Crider said, “It’s just too difficult and too expensive to grow inter-tidally in Humboldt Bay.”

Weinstein disagrees. “This creates opportunity. Rather than a blow to the industry, this will allow for a sensible approach to identifying the best growing areas that have no impact on sensitive species.”

Audubon readily acknowledges oyster cultivation as a protected use of the Bay but would like to see it move into the hands of smaller operations. “We want a flourishing oyster industry and would like to see the harbor district retract its certification of Coast’s EIR and find an equitable and fair way to permit growers. We’ve been asking for years for a comprehensive planning process that would help decide who gets to grow,” said Weinstein, who envisions smaller, less impactful operations of 5-15 acres which she believes will afford a solid middle class living for families who will keep the revenue in Humboldt County.

According to recreational users of the Bay, this type of debris, found by fisherman Ken Bates, indicates inadequate maintenance and clean-up in and around Coast’s operating areas. [Photo by Ken Bates]

Coast currently employs roughly 65 minimum wage workers in its Humboldt operations, in addition to an office staff and local operations manager Greg Dale who also sits on the Harbor District board. Coast is owned by Pacific Seafood, based in Clackamas Oregon, one of the largest seafood companies in North America.

It is unknown at this time what Coast plans to do next. Because they were operating on an extension of their current permit on 300 acres in the Bay, and that operation was folded into the expansion permitting process, the company has just two months to renew its permit to continue growing on its current acreage.

“I’m sure they [Coast] will try to stay in business on Humboldt Bay,” said Crider.

Meanwhile, non-profit environmental legal group Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Humboldt County on March 30 on behalf of Audubon California and the California Waterfowl Association against the Harbor District.   The suit claims that the district violated the California Environmental Quality Act by certifying an illegal EIR that does not adequately mitigate impacts to sensitive species, nor consider cumulative effects to all members of the Bay community. Despite the Coastal Commission decision, the lawsuit will continue and could take from six months to two years to resolve.

Neither Coast not Pacific Seafood responded to requests for a statement about the decision.

 

 

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5 comments

  • “Pacific Herring, whose spawn on eelgrass is critical to Brant survival and an indicator of overall Bay health”

    Let me clarify this …

    Brant migrate along the coast and eat eelgrass in Humboldt Bay during their migration, which is critical to their survival. Herring fish enter Humboldt bay to spawn and their eggs stick to the eelgrass for incubation, which is critical to their survival.

  • There is plenty of room available to expand in Oregon.

  • >”Coast currently employs roughly 65 people…”

    Yup. Maybe the Earthjustice lawyers will employ ’em, or they can apply to Weinstein at the Audubon society… or they can guide rich Brant hunters spending ‘$500 per day’!

    IMHO: Likely they will either have to leave Humboldt County…
    or take up residence under the bridges and in the gulches with the homeless.

  • They’re not great jobs…minimum wage.

  • >”They’re not great jobs…minimum wage.”

    Big Question… I wonder… are they ???

    Typically people (in processing) in seafood plants are paid minimum
    (or near) wage, but… they get paid with a premium for all the weight of ‘fish’ they produce. Good ‘fillet’ artists can take home some pretty good wages.

    Same thing as ‘green-chain’ pullers in the sawmills. Minimum wage,
    plus a bonus of all the lumber they pulled. A good puller could make
    very good wages.

    Eureka was literally built on those jobs… now… it’s homeless and meth.

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