Conservation Groups Sue Army Corps to Protect Seattle Marine Life From Shellfish Harvesting

The Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat and Center for Food Safety filed a complaint in the Western District of Washington at Seattle against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an attempt to stop the expansion of industrial shellfish operations that may lead to the harming of native wildlife in Puget Sound and Willapa Bay.

Since 2007, shellfish harvesting has continued to grow in Washington under the protection of Nationwide Permit 48 (NWP 48) until it was vacated in 2020, the complaint said. This permit allowed for shellfish aquaculture, which “degrades water quality, reduces seagrass populations, and destroys aquatic habitats.” Furthermore, geoduck aquaculture can leak plastics into the water, which are even more harmful to the environment, and can harm the native eelgrass which is essential to the local ecosystem. These microplastics, as well as the permitted pesticides, can cause the wildlife to receive “abrasions, obstructions, and other serious physical injuries” and can affect the “growth, development, mobility, reproductivity, and survival.”

On January 4, 2021, the Army Corps issued a Decision Document, which is their Environmental Assessment (EA) as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This extended the NWP 48 for five more years despite containing “almost no new analysis compared with the prior 2017 NWP 48 and eliminates one of the only ostensible protective measures contained in the prior permit.” The Decision Document also failed to “provide quantitative data regarding the cumulative effects of NWP 48” and relied on “limited studies to make broad generalizations about the potential impacts.” 

As a result, the plaintiffs are suing for violations of the Clean Waters Act, Administrative Procedure Act, National Environmental Policy Act, River and Harbors Act and Endangered Species Act.

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to vacate the 2021 Decision Document for the NWP 48, that the Corps violated the CWA, APA, NEPA, RHA and ESA, attorney’s fees and costs, and other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Law Office of Karl G. Anuta, P.C.