Even in the midst of the great recession, demand for our state’s prized shellfish continues to outpace supply. Washington state already leads the nation in the production of farmed clams, mussels and oysters. However, we could be growing more shellfish and creating more local jobs to fulfill that unmet demand.
Currently, shellfish growers directly and indirectly employ more than 3,200 people and contribute more than $270 million annually to the state’s economy. Along with the industry’s economic contributions, shellfish aquaculture provides important ecological benefits that help clean up Puget Sound, including filtering and improving the quality of our marine waters. But we – as a community – can do even more, and late last week we did.
On Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire unveiled the Washington State Shellfish Initiative – a broad commitment by federal and state agencies, tribes and shellfish growers to protect and enhance Washington’s valuable shellfish resources, promote clean water and create family-wage jobs in rural areas. The initiative recognizes that shellfish farming is a critical clean-water industry that is important for jobs, businesses, citizens and tribes.
A critical component of the initiative is the formation of a model permitting program designed to enhance and ensure effective coordination among state and federal agencies in the permitting process. The single greatest hindrance to increasing shellfish production and adding jobs is the current inefficient, costly and unpredictable process to permit new farms.
Growers seeking to start a shellfish farm, even on privately owned tidelands, must apply for and obtain approval from multiple federal, state and local agencies. Although there is frequently significant overlap in the scope of agency review, each of these agencies has its own application requirements and review process.
Navigating these agency reviews routinely takes shellfish companies many years and costs thousands of dollars. Our company has not had any new farms permitted in nearly five years.
These high costs and protracted timelines have resulted in many jobs and significant tax revenues that could have benefitted Washington’s citizens going to Canada and other states. The potential ecological benefits of shellfish aquaculture that could help clean up Puget Sound are being foregone. As a fourth-generation Washington state shellfish farmer, I never thought that I would have to move my family company’s operations, and jobs, out of my backyard in order to meet market demand.
The Washington State Shellfish Initiative includes an effort to bring together expertise from agencies with regulatory authority over shellfish farms to overcome these challenges, promote healthy marine waters and productive shellfish beds and bring much-needed jobs back to our state. We at Taylor are hopeful that it will provide a more predictable and efficient permit process while continuing to ensure that regulatory requirements are met.
The initiative also includes commitments to restore native shellfish, enhance recreational shellfishing, continue vital shellfish aquaculture research and direct funding and agency resources toward improving water quality in commercial, recreational and tribal shellfish growing areas. Taylor has been involved in the promotion of these efforts for decades, and often in partnership with environmental organizations, state and federal agencies and tribes.
However, we have never before experienced this level of unified commitment from so many critical stakeholders. We believe this is the level of effort required to ensure that the initiative’s goals are achieved.
We at Taylor strongly commend the federal and state leadership who worked to bring about this common sense reform for business, tribes, the environment and the citizens of Washington state, and look forward to doing our part and working with other stakeholders to bring the goals of this Initiative to fruition.
Bill Taylor is president of Taylor United Inc., the Shelton-based shellfish company.