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Board Classifies Perplexing Invader As Noxious Weed

Japanese eelgrass smothered Willapa Bay clam beds in Sept. 2010. Photo by Dr. Kim Patten, WSU Extension
Japanese eelgrass smothered Willapa Bay clam beds in Sept. 2010. Photo by Dr. Kim Patten, WSU Extension
Experimental application of herbicide (on right) controlled Japanese eelgrass. Photo by Dr. Kim Patten, WSU Extension
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Experimental application of herbicide (on right) controlled Japanese eelgrass. Photo by Dr. Kim Patten, WSU Extension

Washington oyster and clam growers now have more legal backing to go after an invasive sea grass. The state's Weed Control Board has voted to classify Japanese eelgrass as a noxious weed to allow commercial shellfish growers to control it better.

Shellfish growers say the non-native Japanese eelgrass is causing millions of dollars in lost production. "Infestations" of the seagrass smother clam beds and disrupt oyster seed.

Prof. Kim Patten manages Washington State University's extension unit at Long Beach. Patten says it's been challenging to reach consensus on a response because the invasive eelgrass has defenders alongside its critics.

"It is an ecosystem engineer because it changes all sorts of dynamics of the bay," Patten explans. "Some of those dynamics are beneficial for some species and negative for others."

For example, waterfowl eat the non-native eelgrass. Patten says the vote by the state noxious weed control board provides "legal clarity" to shellfish growers as they pursue a collective permit to apply aquatic herbicide.

But the board's decision offers no guarantee the growers will get that permit.

On the web:

Previous coverage: Latest Invasive Weed Not Following Usual Script

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=137210930

Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board:

http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.