Would-be aquatic farmers file lawsuit against state

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A group of aquatic farm applicants has filed a lawsuit against the state charging that the Department of Fish and Game changed its policies preventing them from obtaining permits.

The lawsuit was filed in Ketchikan District Court by seven aquatic famers who claim that Fish and Game is preventing them from operating geoduck clam farms in southern Southeast Alaska. At issue is whether farm applicants are entitled to harvest geoducks already on their farm sites, Amy Miller of Coastalaska radio reported.

Scott Thomas, one of the plaintiffs, said some of the farmers intentionally chose sites that had populations of geoducks because the law requires it.

''What the Department of Fish and Game did, is after we applied for these permits, they went out and did surveys,'' Thomas said. ''They wanted to see what was there. And they found that there was lots of Geoduck clams in some of these areas. And they said, 'this is a bunch of clams, and you guys are going to make a bunch of money, and we don't think that you guys should be able to do that.' And we said, 'well this is exactly what the law says we have to do.' We have to apply for areas that are suitable for the species that we are intending to cultivate.''

What's more, Thomas said, Southeast has limited farming areas because for productive habitat a farm needs to be adjacent to a sandy beach. And much of the alaska coastline is rocky.

According to the state attorney general's office, state law doesn't require that a proposed site have an existing stock.

''One of the criteria for reviewing applications is that you need to show that the site is suitable for farming, said Shannon O'Fallon, assistant attorney general. ''Its true that if you've got geoducks that are growing there already its a pretty good indication that you might be able to grow geoducks there. However, we've had conversations with all the farmers and many if not all of them have said that having geoducks at a particular site is not the only indication of a successful site.''

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