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Federal shellfish permit doesn't protect environment, judge rules

A worker at Goose Point oyster growers in Grays Harbor County.
Parker Miles Blohm
A worker at Goose Point oyster growers in Grays Harbor County.

A U.S. judge has thrown out a federal permit for the Washington state shellfish industry that failed to comply with environmental regulations.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik found that Army Corps of Engineers granted a general permit in 2017 that violated the Clean Water and National Environmental Policy acts, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

Lasnik says he has allowed the Army Corps to correct its unlawful actions without terminating the permit and disrupting the industry.

“Our primary objective will be to protect the existing farms that are operating under a suite of local and federal conditions that are implemented at the Seattle district level that we think adequately protects against an environmental harm,” Billy Plauche, attorney for the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers, told KNKX Public Radio. “And those farms should be allowed to continue to operate while the Corps figures out how to address the deficiencies that the court has articulated in its decision.”

Plauche says that isn’t expected to cause any additional harm to the environment, adding that it would allow “the rural communities that depend on those farms to continue to thrive.”

Critics say shellfish growers create plastic marine debris and contaminate water with herbicides.

Army Corps says it's working with the Justice Department for compliance guidance.

An industry study said Washington state is the nation's top producer of farmed shellfish and generates about $150 million.

Margaret Pilaro, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association, told KNKX that growers feel like they’re being “painted as a bad guy” when, in fact, they are environmental stewards.

“(They) have every reason and interest in providing an environment that is healthy enough to grow shellfish,” Pilaro said. “These are iconic species that Washington is known for and they have a deep sense of responsibility to be doing that.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to