Three area shellfish companies have agreed to pay the state a total of $417,000 for the unauthorized use of publicly owned tidelands to grow and harvest shellfish under a settlement announced Wednesday.
The state Department of Natural Resources determined that Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish trespassed on 3.1 acres of tidelands along North Bay near Allyn to grow geoducks, clams and oysters. It concluded that Olympia-based Seattle Shellfish and Arcadia Point Seafood, also of Shelton, each encroached on about a half-acre of tideland to grow geoducks along Case Inlet. The violations took place for between five and seven years, the state said.
The three companies agreed to stop growing shellfish in those areas without a lease but will receive legal permission from the state to harvest geoducks, clams and oysters already planted there. The encroachments are considered unintentional under the pacts.
“I am pleased that all three shellfish growers have shown such commitment to working cooperatively with DNR to determine the rightful access to use these public tidelands,” Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said in a statement. “Each firm’s legal use of tidelands – both private and publicly owned – is important to create jobs and generate revenue that helps protect Puget Sound and bring it back to health.”
The state launched a public-land survey last summer after discovering that Taylor Shellfish had been growing shellfish on public tidelands.
The state acknowledged in a news release that identifying ownership of private and public tidelands “can be complicated by the changing landscapes of shorelines areas, as well as the different ways in which state law has identified the boundaries of shoreline parcels since statehood.”
Bill Dewey, a spokesman for Taylor Shellfish, said the company has reviewed its shellfish farm boundaries and surveyed areas that were in doubt.
“We’ve been proactively working through our properties and cooperating with the state to find other accidental encroachments,” Dewey told The Associated Press.
On this particular trespass, he said, the company leased land from a private owner and relied on its property lines.
“When we started leasing other people’s beaches, we probably were more careless than we should have been,” he added. “I’m sure this will not happen again in the future.”
“Mistakes happen,” Jim Gibbons, Seattle Shellfish’s president, told the AP. “We get everything surveyed now.”
Last year, Taylor Shellfish and DNR settled a long-brewing dispute over geoduck harvesting on state-owned lands in Totten Inlet in south Puget Sound.
Outgoing state Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland had negotiated a tidelands lease with the company days before leaving office.
New Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark didn’t sign that lease, saying the public was shut out of the process.
In May 2009, DNR granted Taylor rights to harvest oysters and geoducks it mistakenly raised on public lands, but it didn’t allow shellfish to be replanted there.
Taylor agreed to pay the state $1.5 million and withdraw lawsuits it had filed against the agency.
Under the agreements, Taylor Shellfish will pay $225,000; Seattle Shellfish, $75,000; and Arcadia Point Seafood, $117,000. DNR will put the money into an account used to restore habitat, inform the public and fund research projects on Puget Sound.
The Associated Press and staff writer John Dodge contributed to this report.