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Native Shrimp Must Be Saved From Neonics, Washington State Rules

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Monday, the Washington Department of Ecology sided with Center for Food Safety and numerous other community and conservation groups, and denied shellfish growers a permit to spray imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, on shellfish beds on Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, in southwest Washington. The requested permit would have allowed shellfish growers from Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association to spray this neurotoxic insecticide into water for the first time, in order to kill native burrowing shrimp.


"Center for Food Safety applauds the Washington Department of Ecology for making the right decision this time around and saying 'no' to the use of neonicotinoids in Washington bay waters," said Amy van Saun, staff attorney in Center for Food Safety's Pacific Northwest office."The state followed the laws requiring protection of this crucial aquatic ecosystem, the wildlife that depend on it, and the public from a dangerous plan to continue the chemical legacy of the industrial shellfish industry."

"We are pleased to see that after taking a hard look at the science that Ecology reached the inescapable conclusion that there must be a better way to find a balance within Willapa Bay that will allow oyster growers thrive while protecting this unique and fragile place," said Andrew Hawley with the Western Environmental Law Center.

After initially granting a request to spray imidacloprid, one of the oldest and most toxic neonicotinoids (the pesticides that are extremely harmful to pollinators, aquatic invertebrates and birds), the Washington Department of Ecology withdrew the permit in 2015 due to public outcry, especially from Seattle chefs. But the Growers Association again applied to spray imidacloprid, never before approved for aquatic use, onto shellfish beds to kill burrowing or ghost shrimp, a native species the growers say loosens the substrate and causes oysters and clams to sink. The Washington Department of Ecology completed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the new science on imidacloprid and neonicotinoids' impact on the aquatic environment, concluding that the use of imidacloprid in Willapa Bay/Grays Harbor would have various harmful impacts, including:

  • Significant, unavoidable impacts to sediment quality and benthic invertebrates.
  • Negative impacts to juvenile worms and crustaceans in areas treated with imidacloprid and nearby areas covered by incoming tides.
  • Negative impacts to fish and birds caused by killing sources of food and disrupting the food web.
  • Concern about non-lethal impacts to invertebrates in the water column and sediment.
  • A risk of impacts from imidacloprid even at low concentrations.
  • Increased uncertainty about long-term, non-lethal and cumulative impacts.

Center for Food Safety, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Environmental Law Center, commented on the SEIS, urging the Washington Department of Ecology to consider all the latest science pointing to the extreme danger posed by water contamination with neonicotinoids and not to grant the permit based on both data gaps and the disturbing evidence of harm from neonicotinoids, including to aquatic species like Dungeness crabs, a commercially-valuable species.

"Dumping imidacloprid, or any other pesticide, into state waters depended on by so many plants and animals, including people, was never a good, long-term solution," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program. "It's important that we find sound, sustainable answers to the challenges Washington oyster farmers are facing that help balance, rather than poison, the environment we all share."

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