Toxic Pearl

Book Review! Toxic Pearl: A True Story

(by Megan Dunn, Healthy People & Communities Program Director)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post stated that people in the area “struggled to control eelgrass and other organisms that threaten the oyster beds.” We regret any confusion this caused and have modified that sentence to reflect the use of herbicides for controlling vegetation.

The story of the Toxic Pearl belongs on the bookshelf next to A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights by Carol Van Strum and Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States by Seth Holmes. It’s a story of invasive species, pesticides and a community directly impacted by the shellfish industry. The author is clearly inspired by the academic conclusions and bravery of Rachel Carson. The author, who has decided to remain anonymous because of concerns for personal safety, brings this true story to light to expose aerial applications and other pesticide controls in the fragile ecosystem of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, Washington.

NCAP has been involved in this work by supporting local activists and sending comment letters on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to Department of Ecology (DOE) in 2014 and 2017. Thankfully in 2018, the DOE denied a request to apply neonicotinoid pesticides. The use of imidacloprid was intended to control two native species of burrowing shrimp, ghost shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis) and mud shrimp (Upogebia pugettensis), which are negatively affecting oyster farming. This long and complicated history is well researched and summarized by the author. Oyster farmers in the area also used herbicides on eelgrass and spartina, which impact aquaculture.

We support efforts to protect this fragile ecosystem from potentially dangerous pesticide applications. Protecting community and environmental health is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of democratic governments. But all too often, decision-makers hear primarily from those who have a direct economic stake and not those who have a personal stake. The oyster crisis showed that the agencies will sometimes listen to public voices.  

This month, a Washington State bill was submitted by Representative Walsh to override the decision by Department of Ecology and allow inadequately tested chemical controls for burrowing shrimp (See House Bill 1037 here: http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/1037.pdf). HB 1611 and SB 5626 give similar authority and would also threaten the survival of orcas and chinook salmon by disrupting the delicate balance of this ecosystem. The public will have to remain active and engaged in order to protect this critical area.

In the meantime, Toxic Pearl offers the most conclusive summary of the complicated history of this economic and environmental struggle. The future of oyster farming in Washington State depends on the industry’s ability to adopt sustainable cultural and management strategies.


The author, M. Perle, has set up a website with orders and additional information: http://www.toxicpearl.com/

You can order the book online or in person from Orca Books in Olympia, or secure a Kindle version from Amazon (only $5.99).

Books are also available from Powell’s Books in Portland, Eagle Harbor Books in Winslow (Bainbridge Island), BookTree in Kirkland, the BookShop in Edmonds, King’s Books in Tacoma, Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, and many more locations).

You may also find  a review (with photos) on the Cliff Mass Weather and Climate Blog:

https://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2019/01/an-important-new-book-describes-how-wa.html



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  • Ashley Chesser
    commented 2019-02-11 10:21:30 -0800
    CORRECTION: An earlier version of this blog post stated that people in the area “struggled to control eelgrass and other organisms that threaten the oyster beds.” We regret any confusion this caused and have modified that sentence to reflect the use of herbicides for controlling vegetation. Thank you, Fritzi, for bringing this to our attention.
  • Fritzi Cohen
    commented 2019-01-30 06:40:38 -0800
    “The area has also struggled to control eelgrass and other organisms that threaten the oyster beds.”
    Unfortunately that statement reinforces the notion—not true— that the oysterbeds have been threatened by eelgrass.
    Many believe that that is simply the subjective view of the growers, and because of their political power they are able
    to get alot of mileage. It certainly happened with the eradication of spartina grass which I have a great deal of knowledge about.
    The growers have never liked eelgrass because it can get entangled in the propellers on their dredgers. I have been told that re
    Spartina which never harmed an oyster bed that the growers found in opposing it an opportunity to spray eelgrass which of course was directly next to the Spartina. Yes it is complex, yes buying into the invasive species concept generally opens the door to more and more pesticide use. And bad science travels like a virus, as it has up and down the pacific northwest coast.
    I say this as a long time environmentalist, supporter of NCAP, and someone who has been observing and fighting the use of pesticides on Willapa Bay for over 20 years.