Washington state’s largest shellfish producer says it is bowing to public pressure and will not use a pesticide recently approved for use in water to control a shrimp that makes it hard for oysters to grow.
After receiving calls, emails and social-media comments from customers all day Friday, Washington’s largest shellfish producer has announced it will not treat its oyster beds with a controversial pesticide.
“Our customers spoke loud and clear today, and that speaks volumes to us,” Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor Shellfish, said Friday. “It is disappointing — this really was the industry’s last hope.”
As part of the Willapa/Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association, Taylor Shellfish worked with the Washington Department of Ecology for years to gain approval for the use of imidacloprid, a neurotoxic pesticide.
The pesticide was to be sprayed on oyster beds to combat burrowing shrimp, which destabilize tide flats, causing oysters to sink and suffocate. The permit, issued April 16, allows up to 2,000 acres to be sprayed a year.
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For years, a pesticide called carbaryl was used to keep the native shrimp at bay, but in 2002, the industry agreed to phase out its use over 10 years. There’s been a search for a replacement ever since, Dewey said.
“At the end of the day, we succeeded,” at finding an alternative, he said. “It has been such a long, hard path for people. Then, to essentially have that all turned upside down in social media and print media, is just really unfortunate. It just leaves us in a difficult spot with no tool.”
Customers and environmentalists have been questioning the use of the pesticide and the permit since a Seattle Times column on Wednesday. But after a Friday story about the possible use in local restaurants of Taylor oysters from areas that had been sprayed, Dewey said, the staff was overwhelmed with calls and emails.
Taylor maintains that imidacloprid is safe, though its manufacturers specifically state 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.
Willapa Bay is the largest producer of farmed oysters in the U.S., and Dewey said 95 percent of the oyster growers in that area are members of the Willapa/Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association.
The company worried about the impact its decision would have on the other farmers — about two dozen of them.
Because of Taylor’s size — it is the biggest farmed-shellfish operation in the country with more than 650 employees — the family recognizes its decision could in effect be a decision for the rest of the industry. Without the financial support of Taylor Shellfish, the group may not have the resources to move forward with the spraying plan, Dewey said.
But the Taylor family had to make the best decision to maintain the company’s reputation and the respect of its customers, Dewey said.
“The Taylor family is all about the community and supporting the industry,” he said. “It feels wrong for the family to make a decision that might harm other growers.”
A rumor circulated Friday that Taylor would go back to the old pesticide, carbaryl, but Dewey said the company will uphold the agreement not to use it.
“We signed an agreement to phase out carbaryl and we are going to stand by that agreement.”