PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says they have introduced new wastewater permits for seafood processors to protect the environment and public health.
However, individuals in the seafood industry believe the stringency of the state’s new regulations treating wastewater is putting their businesses at stake.
“We don’t have the technology available to do it,” said Lori Steele, executive director of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association. “The bottom line is, DEQ is not working with us to understand our operations and tailor those permits to our modern-day processing operations.”
The DEQ tells KOIN 6 News that the permits require that the seafood processors’ wastewater be treated to remove pollutants to a level that protects human health and aquatic life.
Meanwhile, chemical engineers in Astoria say the DEQ’s new rules require seafood processor’s wastewater to be thousands of times cleaner than drinking water before it’s discharged back into the ocean.
“What I’m saying is realistically… the limits (DEQ) is offering now are unachievable,” said Alan Ismond, a chemical engineer with Aqua-Terra Consultants.
DEQ argues humans can handle some levels of chlorine, but that fish can’t.
“Think of how we treat tap water before putting it into fish tanks at home,” said Dylan Darling, a spokesperson for DEQ.
As the permits stands, the Oregon seafood industry says it’s putting businesses on the brink of closure.
“If we can’t get this right with the DEQ, the impacts are going to be far-reaching,” Steele said. “It’s more than just one seafood processing facility.”
The commercial fishing industry in Oregon generates an estimated $558 million in economic activity each year, which is equal to employing more than 9,000 people. Local processors provide a market for fishermen’s catches without traveling long distances, so the ripple effects of these rules will likely be felt along the entire West Coast.
The West Coast Seafood Processors Association said that the seafood industry would likely migrate to Washington or California.
“Who would want to accept a permit that’s unachievable? Who would want to issue a permit that’s unachievable?” Ismond said. “All I’m asking is for common sense. Science, engineering and common sense.”
People in the seafood industry are hoping lawmakers at the state and federal level can step in to help mediate this dispute. Public comment on this issue is open through the end of September.
“I want everybody in the state of Oregon and all coastal communities to know that this is happening and that they can get involved,” Steele said.
The seafood industry started a public campaign called Save Oregon Seafood.
“I want people at home to understand that we’re a sustainable industry. We are stewards of the environment. We care more about our ocean and near-shore ecosystems than any other industry. We’re forward-thinking. We are solutions-oriented,” Steele said. “We work collaboratively with state and federal agencies to achieve our common goals, and we’re just not getting that collaboration from DEQ.”