Articles on Current Environmental Issues

The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District is set to decide Thursday evening whether to certify the environmental review of Coast Seafoods Company’s proposed 256-acre shellfish aquaculture expansion in Humboldt Bay.

“They have failed to take into account the comments they have already been given and to accurately and appropriately address those comments, ” California Waterfowl Association and Audubon Society consulting scientist Scott Frazer said Wednesday. “... Many of us feel like we’re being basically ignored.”

Researchers in some of the studies cited in the environmental plan also claim the harbor district misrepresented their findings.

Both Coast Seafoods and the Harbor District state the mitigation measures and operations in the environmental review will adequately address these concerns.

“The (district Board of Commissioners) will ultimately make the decision on Thursday, ” harbor district Executive Director Jack Crider said. “It’s been a long painful process. Coast (Seafoods) has done a pretty good job of addressing the issues.”

Proposed expansion

Coast Seafoods — which is owned by the Portland-based Pacific Seafood — is currently the largest mariculture business operating in Humboldt Bay with a 300-acre operation in the northern portion of the bay. The proposed expansion would add 256 acres of intertidal oyster culturing to Coast Seafood’s operations in two phases.

Both the renewal of Coast Seafoods’ current permit and the environmental review of the expansion will go before the harbor district Board of Commissioners on Thursday evening.

As 2nd Division Commissioner Greg Dale is the southwest operations manager for Coast Seafoods, he said he will recuse himself from the meeting. With the 3rd Division seat still needing to be filled after Mike Wilson was elected to the county Board of Supervisors, the three remaining commissioners Larry Doss, Patrick Higgins and Richard Marks will need to make a unanimous vote to approve the permit and environmental plan.

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The proposed expansion going before the commission Thursday is significantly reduced from Coast Seafoods’ original proposal in 2015 to expand by about 620 acres.

Coast Seafoods revised its previous proposal due to concerns raised by the public regarding impacts to eelgrass and local wildlife. To address these concerns, Coast Seafoods reduced the size of the expansion and agreed to remove a quarter-acre of its existing long-line operations for every new acre added. More than 60 acres of existing operations will be removed if the plan is approved.

Frazer, who is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientist, criticized this measure as being “woefully inadequate” and that it does not follow regulatory agencies’ “no net loss” wetlands policies under the Clean Water Act.

In response to these concerns, the harbor district wrote in the environmental impact report that the mitigation measures would “ensure no net loss of eelgrass resources” in the bay.

The first phase of the expansion would add 165 acres of shellfish culture operations. The remaining 91 acres would be added after three to five years of monitoring by Coast Seafoods, which will have to implement an adaptive management plan to address any potential impacts to eelgrass beds.

“There has never been anybody doing more monitoring than what we’re doing now and what we’re proposing to do, ” Dale said. “... Honestly, I think the folks that have advised us in this project and agencies that have worked on it have done quite a bit of work to reach some sort of solution to minimize any impacts, if there are impacts.”

Should the harbor district Board of Commissioners approve the plan, the expansion will still need to receive a water quality certification from the regional water quality control board, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission, according to Dale. Dale said he hopes to begin the expansion this summer.

“Our goal is not to have an impact on the bay, ” Dale said. “That would be our goal to go forward with this: an industry that works for the bay and for the community rather than against them.”

Dale said the expansion would increase Coast Seafood’s output by about 30 percent and add around 20 new jobs.

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