Public comment sought on oyster growers’ new plan to spray beds with pesticide

A 2015 proposal to spray some Washington oyster beds with imidacloprid, a neurotoxic pesticide, was withdrawn after a deluge of opposition from local chefs and the public. Now a new plan is in the works.

It’s back on the table: Less than a year and a half after public outcry stopped a plan to spray imidacloprid on Washington oyster beds, there’s a new proposal to use the neurotoxic pesticide in the same manner.

The 2015 plan was withdrawn after a deluge of opposition from local chefs and the public.

The Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) calls the latest proposition “similar, but not identical” to the previous one, and it comes from the same group, the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association. The application of the pesticide to the oyster beds is intended to combat the proliferation of burrowing shrimp that destabilize the tideflats, causing oysters to sink down into it and suffocate.

Fewer acres of Washington oyster beds would be sprayed — 485 acres in Willapa Bay and 15 acres in Grays Harbor, rather than 2,000 acres total in the previous permit. However, those figures are per year, meaning, according to a DOE report, “it is possible that over the 5-year term of the permit, the total acreage to be treated within Willapa Bay could range from 485 to 2,485 acres, and within Grays Harbor could range from 15 to 75 acres.” Additionally, the tidelands would be treated with imidacloprid by hand or with ground equipment, rather than the originally proposed helicopters.

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The Washington State Department of Ecology has already conducted an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the plan to spray oyster beds with the pesticide. In an announcement, the agency says that while there is “Little known direct risk to fish, birds, marine mammals, and human health,” the spraying of imidacloprid involves “immediate adverse, unavoidable impacts to juvenile worms, crustaceans, and shellfish to the areas treated… and the nearby areas covered by incoming tides,” “potential indirect impacts to fish and birds if food sources are disrupted,” and “significant uncertainty about the cumulative impacts and other unknown impacts to other marine invertebrates and life cycles.”

Furthermore, the Department of Ecology notes, “There are still knowledge gaps about imidacloprid. Further research is needed,” and that…

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