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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

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.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid