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

    UN Observes International Day of Peacekeepers

    The U.N. honors 3,400 peacekeepers killed since first mission in 1948

    Video Rolling Thunder Tribute to US Military Turns into a Trump Rally

    Half-million motorcycles are expected to rumble Sunday afternoon from Pentagon to Vietnam War Memorial for rally in event group calls Ride for Freedom

    The Struggle With Painkillers: Treating Pain Without Feeding Addiction

    'Wonder drug' pain medications have turned out to be major problem: not only do they run high risk of addicting the user, but they can actually make patients' chronic pain worse, US CDC says

    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.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora