Public Perceptions and Pesticides - A Case Study of the Willapa Bay Oyster Bed Spraying Permit of 2015
Baker, Ian Lynn
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Aquaculture has been identified as a way to meet increasing global seafood demands while wild-catch fishery production has been stagnant in recent years. In the United States, it may also be seen as a tool to balance the country’s $11billion seafood trade deficit and continue to supply low-cost nutritious food choices. However, consumer concern for farmed seafood and environmental impacts has challenged traditional aquaculture practices and public support of its efforts. To better understand these concerns, this study analyzes the events and media surrounding one particular event that put the aquaculture industry in the spotlight. This incident was the 2015 application by local oyster growers to spray a new pesticide, the neurotoxin imidacloprid, on oyster beds in Willapa Bay, WA to control the populations of burrowing shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis and Upogebia pugettensis) threatening the viability of their oyster farms. Elite interviews were used along with public comment and media coverage to identify the concerns of those supportive of and opposed to the issuance of the permit. Claims regarding the uncertainty of findings and historical disturbances of the bay were then analyzed with evidence from scientific literature as a way to support or refute their validity. Those opposing the permit were particularly concerned for non-target impacts, especially to salmon, which may not have been properly tested. Oyster growers and other supporters of the permit stress the need to control shrimp populations and cite human interference as a cause for the expanding shrimp populations. Six years of testing have been previously conducted on the efficacy and impacts of imidacloprid as a pesticide and studies continue today. These studies illustrated that there was no confirmed risk of wider environmental damage, but that areas of uncertainty remained. Interviews conducted for this study demonstrate that concerns over these uncertainties still remain and shape the public opinion. This study finds that there is a distinct difference between the risk perceptions of the general public and those of the industry and administrative bodies. Objections to this spraying permit closely reflect global objections to aquaculture practices and demonstrate a disconnect between what is required by permit and what is deemed acceptable by some sub-sections the public in terms of environmental uncertainty and risk.
- Marine affairs