KMUD news covers the recent lease agreement with Nordic AquaFarms, featuring  interviews Harbor District Director Larry Oetker and Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt.

 

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The Center for Biological Diversity is hopeful its lawsuit filed over whale and sea turtle entanglements is nearing its conclusion after a federal judge suggested she may find the California Department of Fish and Wildlife liable for the entanglements, a center spokesman said.

 

“The judge said she was inclined to grant our motion and find the department liable for allowing these illegal whale entanglements,” spokesman Steve Jones said Friday after the hearing in United States District Court for the Northern District of California. “So the department’s lawyer asked her to delay that ruling for two weeks to see if our settlement talks can arrive at a remedy to the problem.”

 

The two parties have until March 13 to work out their differences and report back to the judge. If no settlement is reached, the judge will issue a finding.

 

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in October 2017, when the number of whale entanglements was skyrocketing. The peak came in 2016 when there were 71 confirmed whale entanglements.

 

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is a defendant-intervenor in the case and is not taking a position on the liability issue that will be decided in the coming weeks, but is a part of the ongoing talks.

 

“We are engaging on behalf of the fleet in other factual aspects of the case as they arise and in settlement discussions so we don’t lose any of the progress we’ve made, which has been substantial,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the fishermen’s group. “Fishermen have been doing the hard work necessary to minimize entanglements and promote whale-safe fisheries through voluntary and regulatory measures.”

 

“To date, to my knowledge, there have been zero entanglements in the Dungeness crab fishery in 2018, the period since major regulatory changes were enacted via state law,” Oppenheim added. “This is a big deal because it indicates that the working group and its risk assessment and mitigation program is working. Throughout this whole process, we can’t lose sight of the fact that fishermen, scientists, and environmentalists came together and put together the most progressive science-based progress of its kind in the country. It would be a shame if we lose our momentum, or worse, were forced to throw all of this progress out the window because of the lawsuit.”

 

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Humboldt County is poised to become a hub for aquaculture, as the Harbor District has approved a lease for a Norway-based company that aims to build a fish farm on the Samoa Peninsula. 

 

The district’s Board of Commissioners approved a 30-year lease with a subsidiary of Nordic Aquafarms on February 11, in a closed session special meeting followed by a public hearing. 

The Humboldt Baykeeper advocacy group has indicated that it will monitor the project and comment on it as it takes form. For now, the group has questioned the short timing between the lease’s approval and its prior public announcement. 

 

Baykeeper’s staff met with Nordic Aquafarms before the lease approval and Jen Kalt, the group’s director, said the proposal is formative. 

 

“They’ve said that they won’t grow Atlantic salmon, they won’t grow GMO fish and they won’t use antibiotics,” she continued. “But they’re not sure what fish they’re going to raise so they can’t point to the source of the fish stock or anything like that – there’s really nothing specific, it’s vague at this point.” 

 

Baykeeper’s focus of concern will be on ocean discharge but “we haven’t had time to go into the details on that because this has come up so suddenly,” said Kalt. 

 

Nordic Aquafarms will now work to gain ground on public interaction. The company’s representatives were in town for the entire week following the lease approval and Kalt said a meeting with Baykeeper and member groups of the Northcoast Environmental Center was set. 

 

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On Thursday the safety committee of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District called for an emergency meeting to address the issue of shoaling in the bay due to severe winter storms.

 

The harbor district, responding to results of soundings performed by the Army Corps of Engineers that found the bay shallower than at any other point in its history, called for an emergency declaration. But the district does not have the authority to declare an emergency.

 

Among the greatest concerns related to the shoaling is the impact it could have on the weekly deliveries of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels that are delivered by Chevron. On Friday morning, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office issued a news release addressing conditions on the bay, the emergency declaration and any impacts to fuel deliveries.

 

“Please note that under the California Disaster Assistance Act, the Humboldt Bay Harbor District does not have the authority to declare a countywide state of emergency,” the release stated. “Only the sheriff and the board of supervisors have the authority to make such a declaration. The hazardousconditions created by shoaling do not currently affect Chevron’s ability to bring fuel into Humboldt County and we are not currently experiencing a fuel crisis.”

 

There are two types of dredging performed on Humboldt Bay, and the most important dredging is to keep the main channel deep enough so that larger ships can cross the bar. To ensure commerce on the bay thrives, the channels must be kept clear enough to allow for the free flow of shipping and the latest series of winter storms have created a dangerous spot as ships enter the bay.

 

“There is no solution outside of dredging and it’s definitely affected our deep draft vessels,” said harbor pilot Tim Petrusha on Friday. “We probably won’t see any big ships for a while, no log carriers or chip carriers, they are not able to enter the bay right now. The corner where it’s shoaling is rougher than normal and that creates more hazardous conditions getting in and out and that’s for any boats, not just commercial boats.”

 

The county board of supervisors are well aware of the issues surrounding dredging on the bay and in January, the County Administrative Office issued a letter addressed to the Corps of Engineers requesting emergency dredging due to the shoaling.

 

First District Supervisor and board chair Rex Bohn echoed the need for urgency in addressing the shoaling because of the impacts it has on the commercial activity and ongoing commercial development of the bay.

 

“The declaration of an emergency goes through our office and I understand Larry (Oetker) is still new at the job and maybe he pulled the trigger a little quickly,” Bohn said on Friday. “No harm, no foul; shoaling has been a long-term problem and it’s been exacerbated by the winter storms. It’s something that must be addressed because our harbor has great commerce and getting goods in and out is key to that commerce. I have made multiple trips to Sacramento to plead with the Army Corps of Engineers and next week I’m going to Washington, D.C., and it’s at the top of my list of priorities.”

 

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The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District voted unanimously at a special meeting yesterday to declare a state of emergency due to increased sedimentation in the channel into Humboldt Bay that is causing dangerous conditions and imperiling the county’s fuel supply.

 

The vote came after the district received the results of depth testing by the Army Corps of Engineers, which found that the 48-foot deep channel is currently at about 21 feet, filled with sediment that washed out of the Eel River during storms last month. The shallowing of the channel is creating large cross waves and “extremely large sneaker waves” around Buoy 9, an area known as “Rock and Roll Alley,” according to a staff report. The conditions are imperiling local recreational and commercial fishing boats, as well as the commercial shipping industry, including the fuel ships that deliver 6 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel to the Chevron fuel dock every nine days.

 

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