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Goodbye Fish and Shellfish? Meet the Biggest Threat to Our Oceans

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On most days, Bill Dewey can be found wearing waist-high waders and inspecting Manila clams-the West Coast version of the littleneck-at his Washington clam farm, Chuckanut Shellfish. Under an arrangement that's unique to the state, Dewey owns 32 acres of tidelands. Unlike land-based farms, he can only harvest when the tide recedes, leaving over a mile of mudflats, and shellfish, exposed.  He gathers the clams with the help of a former tulip-bulb harvesting machine that's carried out aboard his boat, the Clamdango!

Working on the mudflats, often with his son and dog in tow, is the fulfillment of a dream for Dewey, a shellfish farmer for more than 30 years who is also the public policy and communications director for Taylor Shellfish Company. Taylor's operations-which include growing oysters, clams, mussels and geoduck (giant clams whose necks can reach more than three feet long)-span some 1,900 acres of the same tidelands. All told, there are about 47,000 acres of oceanic land that have that special designation in the state, and, he says, "It's fundamental as to why Washington leads the country in farmed shellfish production. In other parts of country, you typically have to lease the land from the state. Banks are less apt to loan money to businesses that have to lease."

Commercial shellfishing makes up the lion's share-two-thirds-of the nation's aquaculture industry. So reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) Fisheries Service which makes a case for boosting domestic seafood production, noting that Americans eat a lot of seafood, and import 86% of it, creating a U.S. seafood trade deficit that now exceeds $10.4 billion annually, second only to oil when it comes to natural resources. In the Pacific Northwest, the shellfish industry contributes $270 million per year to the regional economy and employs more than 3,200 people. And when oyster cultivation fails at the top Northwest hatcheries and farms, the effects on the industry are devastating. 


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