Bivalve shellfish have provided sustenance to Pacific Northwest Tribes for thousands of years and figured prominently in tribal spiritual beliefs. Symbolic of the cultural significance of shellfish is the phrase, ta’aWshi xa’iits’os, from the native Quinault language meaning “clam hungry.”
Degraded water quality and increased harvest pressure have substantially reduced shellfish resources available to Pacific Northwest Tribes. While wild harvest opportunities have dwindled, the shellfish aquaculture industry in Washington State has grown to lead the country in the production of farmed shellfish. The 2007 Treaty Rights Settlement provides an opportunity for Puget Sound Tribes to enhance their shellfish resources using shellfish aquaculture technology. The Settlement provides new opportunities for collaboration with commercial growers both in culturing shellfish and restoring the Puget Sound.
Shellfish aquaculture is an activity of statewide interest and a water dependent preferred use under Washington’s Shoreline Management Act. The majority of the farmed shellfish production occurs on privately owned tidelands with a lesser amount on inter and subtidal lands leased from the State. Farms in place prior to March 12, 2007 are permitted under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 48 (NWP48). New farms initiated after that date require Individual Army Corps Permits (IPs). These federal permits require ESA Section 7 consultation by NOAA Fisheries and the US Fish & Wildlife Service as well as review for impact to Essential Fish Habitat under the Magnusson Stevens Act. The Army Corps permit must also be certified by the Washington Department of Ecology pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act and, in some instances, Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
Army Corps permitting ensures that shellfish aquaculture activities don’t adversely impact finfish resources. They also need to be closely monitored so that the activities don’t adversely affect tribal wild shellfish fisheries (both biologically and economically). Precaution needs to be taken so that shellfish aquaculture activities also do not disturb or destroy culturally significant sites and practices of the tribes.
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission encourages the continued study of the biological, environmental, cultural, and economic impacts of shellfish aquaculture. These studies should include but not be limited to:
- Biological impacts of shellfish culture to native stocks of shellfish and other species;
- Impacts of culture and harvesting practices to near shore and other shoreline habitats;
- Economic impacts of wild vs. farmed harvests
- Social, cultural and economic value of shellfish aquaculture to the Tribes
The NWIFC acknowledges that wild and cultured shellfish are ecologically important to the health of Washington’s marine waters. Their filtering improves water clarity, encourages eelgrass and macroalgae growth and can help remove excess nutrients where they are a problem.
The NWIFC supports the continued development of shellfish aquaculture in Puget Sound and its surrounding waters. The Commission encourages Tribes to explore shellfish aquaculture as a means of enhancing shellfish resources for cultural and economic gain. The Commission will work cooperatively with affected governments, Tribes, private parties, and private businesses to ensure the orderly, environmentally responsible and sustainable development of shellfish aquaculture.