News / USA

    Non-Native Weed Threatens Northwest Clams

    Japanese eelgrass has a devastating impact on yields

    Japanese eelgrass smothering Willapa Bay clam beds in Sept. 2010.
    Japanese eelgrass smothering Willapa Bay clam beds in Sept. 2010.

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Tom Banse

    The usual story of invasive species goes something like this: an exotic plant or critter hitches a ride on some incoming cargo, alarm bells go off and an eradication campaign starts.

    But now, Japanese eelgrass, a non-native seaweed showing up along America’s West Coast, breaks that mold.

    Willapa Bay produces more shellfish for American tables than any other inlet on the West Coast. Brian Sheldon's family has been growing clams and oysters on the tide flats here for three generations.

    "These little holes here are all clams. I call this my college fund bed," he says. "I tell my kids, you go out and work that bed, because that's how you're going to college."

    But, Sheldon jokes, the way things are going that's shaping up to be an inexpensive state school rather than a plush private college.

    Northern Oyster Co. owner Brain Sheldon says his business has been devastated by Japanese eelgrass.
    Northern Oyster Co. owner Brain Sheldon says his business has been devastated by Japanese eelgrass.

    His clam beds should be bare sand but Sheldon's acreage is being overrun by a green sea grass that really belongs on the other side of the Pacific.

    "In the summer, this piece of ground here will be completely covered with grass," he says. "It kinds of sits in there and holds the heat in there in the bed and it makes the clams watery and weaker."

    Sheldon calls it an infestation that has reached devastating proportions. Several neighboring companies have simply abandoned some of their clam beds.

    "Our yields are down 40 to 50 percent, you know."

    Marine biologists believe the Asian eelgrass was most likely brought to Washington State decades ago in shipments of oysters from Japan. The plant is also called Japonica or dwarf eelgrass. It has spread north to British Columbia and south along the Oregon coast into California.

    Experimental application of herbicide (on right) controlled Japanese eelgrass, but its use is controversial.
    Experimental application of herbicide (on right) controlled Japanese eelgrass, but its use is controversial.

    Shellfish growers want Japanese eelgrass declared a noxious weed so they can spray herbicide or mow the invader down. California has already done so. To the growers, it seems obvious that Washington and its neighbors should do so as well. The sea grass is not native. It's causing a nuisance and there are control methods that work.

    But not so fast, argue some marine scientists, state agencies and conservationists.

    "In most areas of the world, these plants are highly protected. So in my mind, the ledger needs more examination," says Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria, a marine biologist with the University of Washington. "There are areas where Japonica has been shown to be a valuable resource and there are other areas where it is quite mixed."

    In the Northwest, he says waterfowl like to eat the sea grass. A suite of smaller creatures probably lives and feeds in the vegetation. The eelgrass might also stabilize eroding beaches.

    The Sierra Club also opposes eradication of the accidental colonist, even though it's non-native.

    "For two reasons; one, it is fish habitat. But more importantly, in their efforts to eradicate Japanese eelgrass, there is a very high probability they could be eradicating native eelgrass," says the Sierra Club's Laura Hendricks. "That is something that would have a major impact on recovery of our fish species and the birds."

    Caught in the middle is the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, which floats a possible compromise - list Japanese eelgrass as a noxious weed but only on commercial shellfish beds.

    "It might not be the end-all, be-all solution that either side is looking for but what it does do is allow us to acknowledge it is a problem in one area, but it is not considered a problem in the other areas," says Alison Halpern, director of the panel.

    Halpern's gotten some positive feedback, but not everyone's on board yet. Shellfish growers say it's a good start, but worry the plan could require them to fight the non-native sea grass into perpetuity.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora