A new study will show what impacts we are having on the state’s shellfish industry, and investigate the industry’s decline. Stantec, a global engineering, architecture, and consulting firm—in partnership with National Fisheries Conservation Center— will be supporting the Grays Harbor Conservation District (GHCD) with the Twin Harbors Sediment Study. This critical project focuses on protecting and enhancing the local shellfish industry located in Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties in Washington State. The firm will be developing and running a coastal model of the Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay estuaries to estimate and predict scour and sediment deposition as it impacts the oyster industry, a critical economic driver for this rural and economically depressed region of Western Washington.
Grays Harbor and neighboring Willapa Bay have long been one of the most productive shellfish aquaculture areas in the US, cultivating 25% of the country’s oysters. Shellfish aquaculture and related jobs are key components of the local and regional economy, and shellfish themselves provide ecological benefits to the estuary—facilitating water filtration, juvenile fish and crustacean habitat, and healthy benthic fauna.
Shellfish aquaculture has been suffering from excessive sediment movement resulting from nearby river flow, coupled with changes associated with human activity—including dredging +and bulkheading— as well as changing ocean conditions, and variations in the tides and winds. This problem has been reported since 1990 and has been deteriorating, which has caused continuous degradation in local commercial shellfish cultivation. Additionally, an infestation of burrowing shrimp is degrading the overall ecology of the Bay, while liquifying the sediment, swallowing shellfish, and ultimately suffocating them, further exacerbating the situation.
GHCD initiated a three-phased process in 2015 to investigate the growing impacts. Phase I included a literature review and general analysis to identify Phase II next steps. During Phase II, Stantec will strive to obtain a better understanding of the sedimentation and erosion dynamics in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay, identify areas of impact and potential new sites for shellfish aquaculture, and define mitigation measures in greater detail to offset impacts to shellfish growing beds. In addition to leading coastal model development, the global firm will be capturing ultra-high-resolution imagery of the estuaries and performing an in-depth analysis of where the most active sediment is, while identifying stable areas of sediment where oysters can grow safely.
“Farming shellfish — and protecting the beautiful waterways necessary for shellfish to live— is a way of life that has existed since before statehood in rural Western Washington,” said Wayne Wright, Stantec Principal Scientist and Project Manager, based in Bellevue. “We are humbled to be leading efforts to help support the rapidly deteriorating shellfish industry, a major economic resource for the entire state of Washington and look forward to getting underway.”
The modeling and site analysis are expected to be complete at the end of 2020.
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