An Inconvenient Species

Urosalpinx cinerea shells collected on San Francisco Bay shores, showing different amounts of wear and bleaching. Photo by Andrew N. Cohen.

If you’re a shellfish grower in Willapa Bay, the Willapa Bay Oyster Reserve Advisory Board needs you! According to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) press release from late May, the advisory board was “established by the state legislature in 2001, and advises the department on issues related to oyster reserve management, growing operations, and research in Willapa Bay.” Be sure to get your applications in by June 15. For more info, call Bruce Kauffman of WDFW at (360) 665-4166.

So what would you be doing on this prodigious board, you might ask. Well, recently the board decided to hire Dr. Steve Sylvester from Washington State University in Vancouver to find a way to eradicate oyster drills – snails that drill their way into the shells of oysters and other shellfish and eat them. Two kinds of oyster drill exist in Willapa Bay: the Atlantic (Urosalpinx cinerea) and Japanese (Ocinebrellus inornatus). Both species were inadvertently introduced along with imported oysters, brought into the state to replace the over-harvested native Olympia oyster. And both are examples of aquatic nuisance species.

According to the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force website, ANS are “non-indigenous species that threaten the diversity or abundance of native species, the ecological stability of infested waters, or any commercial, agricultural, aquacultural or recreational activities dependent on such waters. ANS include non-indigenous species that may occur within inland, estuarine or marine waters and that presently or potentially threaten ecological processes and natural resources. In addition to the severe and permanent damage to the habitats they invade, ANS also adversely affect individuals by hindering economic development, preventing recreational and commercial activities, decreasing the aesthetic value of nature, and serving as vectors of human disease.”

Our little snails meet the ANS definition, since they weren’t around here a couple hundred years ago, and they threaten the local oyster aquaculture industry. Sylvester claims that the oyster drill snails are “costing oystermen millions of dollars in Washington State.”

The ANS Task Force is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to preventing and controlling aquatic nuisance species, and implementing the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA) of 1990. NANPCA was set up mainly to combat the spread of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes region, but also mentions several other ANS in its Congressional findings section that “are likely to spread quickly to most other waters in North America if action is not taken promptly to control their spread”, including mitten crab, green crab, brown mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, hydrilla, water hyacinth, and water chestnut.

Green no more. Satellite photo courtesy of Google Maps.

NANPCA was amended in 2000, after passage of the National Invasive Species Act (NISA) in 1996. It mandates the preparation of state ANS management plans, and both Oregon and Washington have them. They mainly deal with education campaigns to prevent boaters and shipping operators from bringing ANS to our coastal and inland waters. But along with NISA, NANPCA has brought resources into the Pacific Northwest to continue our battle with other species of life that are very inconvenient to local industry, agriculture, aquaculture and many of the rest of us real working people who depend on the environment to live.

Now, if you want to see the ravages of a real invasion, check out the land behind Les Schwab adjacent to Highway 101 in Warrenton. Employing giant tree-eating machines, the premier invasive species on Earth has managed to wipe out a native ecosystem in a matter of days. From the ashes of an ancient coastal woodland wetland comes…

…a dry, flattened, graveled property, “ready for sale”. And we’re worried about a tiny snail? Don’t forget to get those applications in!

By Bob Goldberg

Bob moved to Astoria from Seattle in 2005, on the day Katrina hit New Orleans. He started writing for HIPFiSH in 2007. With a previous career as an environmental engineer with the Washington State Department of Ecology and a researcher at various companies and national labs, Bob tries to bring his scientific (i.e. objective) background to journalism. Outside the HIPFiSH world, Bob does programming on KMUN radio, sings tenor in the North Coast Chorale, tutors at Clatsop Community College, and helps with websites. He lives in Astoria with his beautiful and wonderful wife, his son and two cats.