“We’ve heard loud and clear from people across Washington that this permit didn’t meet their expectations, and we respect the growers’ response,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon in a news release Sunday.
Bowing to public pressure, the Department of Ecology and a growers association have agreed to cancel a recently issued permit for the use of a controversial pesticide to treat oyster beds, the DOE said Sunday.
The permit to use imidacloprid, a neurotoxic pesticide, in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, two bays that account for a quarter of the commercial oysters produced in the U.S., prompted a deluge of grief from environmentalists, restaurateurs and the public.
The backlash led Taylor Shellfish, Washington’s largest shellfish producer and a major backer of using the pesticide, to announce Friday it was abandoning its plan to use the toxin to combat burrowing shrimp, which have been wreaking havoc on local oyster beds.
“One of our agency’s goals is to reduce toxics in our environment,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a news release Sunday.
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“We’ve heard loud and clear from people across Washington that this permit didn’t meet their expectations, and we respect the growers’ response.”
In a letter sent Sunday to DOE requesting withdrawal of the permit, Don Gillies, president of the Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) said that, “We believe we have no choice but to withdraw our permit and address these issues to the satisfaction of our customer base, and the public.”
The pullback means, however, that oyster growers in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor will have to find another way of fighting the burrowing shrimp, which destabilize tideflats, causing oysters to sink and suffocate.
Bill Dewey, a spokesman for Taylor Shellfish, told The Seattle Times on Friday that imidacloprid, which replaces carbaryl, another type of pesticide recently phased out by local growers, was the industry’s last hope. But the decision to pull the plug was made to protect Taylor’s name, he said in an interview Sunday. After all, the company has farms in other locations. “We can’t let the brand go down over this issue,” he said.
The DOE says oyster growers have attempted a wide array of methods to fight off the stubborn shrimp, ranging from covering tide flats with gravel and shells to injecting them with habanero-pepper extract and garlic oil.
They also considered running four-wheel-drive vehicles over the oyster beds to crush the creatures’ burrows, and electroshocking them away. But the most effective method, in the department’s eyes, was the imidacloprid, which the DOE says is used in flea collars and food crops. It’s supposed to paralyze the shrimp and is “far less of a threat” to vertebrates, the agency said in a recent blog post.
“Anything you can imagine, we’ve tried it,” said Taylor’s Dewey.
Customers and environmentalists have been questioning the use of the pesticide and the permit after a Bloomberg Businessweek story published two weeks ago and a Danny Westneat column on Wednesday.
But a Seattle Times story Friday about the possible use in local restaurants of Taylor Shellfish oysters from sprayed areas prompted consumers and oyster buyers to flood the company with calls and emails, said Taylor’s Dewey.
Seattle chefs also played a key role in increasing the pressure on growers. Speaking to The Times last week, chef Jim Drohman of Cafe Presse and Le Pichet said he would be contacting his suppliers to make sure he wasn’t serving pesticide-sprayed oysters. Renee Erickson of The Walrus and The Carpenter said she was “horrified” by the state’s plan.
Taylor’s decision to pull the plug on the pesticide also likely played a part in making the other producers reconsider the plan, a DOE spokesman said.
The permit, issued April 16, allows up to 2,000 acres a year to be sprayed with imidacloprid to control burrowing shrimp.
Washington approved it for that use, becoming the only state in the nation to do so.
The pesticide’s original manufacturer specifically states it’s not for use in water, and both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have sounded the alarm about unknown consequences.
But Taylor’s Dewey maintains imidacloprid is safe, and that the industry invested around $1 million over the past five years to make sure it’s registered for specific use in water.
He says the media coverage generated some “serious misunderstanding.”
The DOE said it will complete the paperwork to cancel the permit on Monday.