Arcata, Calif. – Audubon California today applauded the decision by the California Coastal Commission to deny a permit for a sprawling oyster farm expansion into rare and threatened aquatic habitat during its meeting in Arcata, California on Wednesday.
The Coastal Commission last night voted 6-5 to deny the permit request from Coast Seafoods, Inc., which sought to expand its current oyster farm from approximately 300 acres to almost 500 acres, most of it in publicly-owned eelgrass beds and tidal mudflats.
“The Commission chose to protect the integrity of California’s coast today,” said Anna Weinstein, Marine Program Manager for Audubon California. “The best available science overwhelming indicates that this project would have massive and permanent impacts on Humboldt Bay’s eelgrass, marine life, and birds, which would have been felt along the California coast and the Pacific Flyway. There should be no further expansion of aquaculture in Humboldt Bay until it is better studied so that impacts can be avoided or fully mitigated.”
The Commission appeared to be heavily swayed by the fact that no other oyster farming operation in the state is allowed to encroach on eelgrass, a threatened marine habitat that is necessary to maintain the coastal food web because it serves as a spawning site for Pacific herring, crustaceans, and other sea life. The Commission also appeared to be concerned about the fate of the Pacific Black Brant, a goose that migrates for thousands of miles and whose population depends heavily on the eelgrass beds of Humboldt Bay.
The Commission’s decision comes after months of public outcry about the project. The project has spawned hundreds of comment letters and protests from local hunters, state and federal wildlife agencies, environmental organizations, and the local Wiyot tribe.
Humboldt Bay is a vital stop for birds along the Pacific Flyway. In spring migration alone, Humboldt Bay hosts as many as 100,000 shorebirds each day. It hosts extraordinarily large percentages of many populations of shorebirds and waterfowl, including approximately:
- Up to 60% of all migrating Black Brant
- 23% of all migrating and overwintering Western Sandpiper
- 44% of all migrating and overwintering Dunlin (Pacifica subspecies)
A key driver of this bird activity is Humboldt Bay’s eelgrass, a rare type of habitat that is invaluable as a food resource for birds, as well as the fish and crustaceans that birds eat. Eelgrass is on the decline in much of California, and about half of the state’s remaining eelgrass is in Humboldt Bay. Eelgrass is also vital to the bay’s herring population, which will lose spawning ground to this project.
“We hope that this will put an end to Coast Seafood’s expansion project and start a collaborative planning effort in Humboldt Bay to find the best places for aquaculture in the bay, where industry can thrive without wreaking unnecessary impacts on sensitive habitats and wildlife species,” Weinstein said. “There are many sites in the bay where oysters can be raised that are compatible with the needs of wildlife, hunters, recreational boaters, and others that love to use the bay.”
About Audubon California
Audubon California is building a better future for California by bringing people together to appreciate, enjoy and protect our spectacular outdoor treasures. With more than 150,000 members and supporters in California and an affiliated 48 local Audubon chapters, Audubon California is a field program of the National Audubon Society. More information is available at www.ca.audubon.org.