The Washington State Senate has voted 31-16 to ban all new Atlantic salmon farming in the state and phase out net pen farming by 2025. The phasing out plan will happen gradually as existing aquatic leases expire. This is an update to a post dated August 29, 2017, when we reported that a net pen breach was discovered after Lummi fishers began catching rouge Atlantic salmon along with indigenous Chinook salmon. It was estimated that over 250,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into the Salish Sea.
Initially, Cooke Aquaculture, the owner of the pens, reported that the net pen breach was due to the solar eclipse and high tides. However, after a four-month investigation by three state agencies, it was found that the escape was due to poor maintenance and negligence. At the time of the breach, Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, had already terminated two leases with Cooke at Cypress Island and Port Angeles due to violations of their lease agreement.
“The state ban is a strong stance to ensure the protection of our marine environment and native salmon populations in the Salish Sea,” said Senator Kevin Ranker. “We have invested far too much in the restoration of our Salish Sea. The economic, cultural, and recreational resources of these incredible waters will no longer be jeopardized by the negligent actions of this industry.”
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill, after voicing his support for phasing out net pen farming in Washington State. He has called the risk of another collapse “intolerable.”
Oregon, California, and Alaska have all banned net pen farming, and Washington’s native tribes were a united front in the fight to ban these operations in Washington State.
“Our hands go up to all that were involved in championing this issue in the legislature,” said Samish Indian Nation Chairman Tom Wooten in a statement Friday night. “We continue to send thoughts to our neighbors in Canada as they fight this same battle in their waters.”
Cooke Aquaculture is one of the largest seafood operations in the world, with farms in six countries, approximately 6,000 employees, and revenue of over $2 billion last year. In a press release, Joel Richardson, Vice President of Public Relations wrote, “We are deeply disappointed in the action taken by the Legislature today and the potential impact it could have on Washington’s 30-year salmon-farming industry and the more than 600 rural workers and their families that rely upon salmon farming for their livelihoods.”
Cooke Aquaculture has indicated that it may file suit for damages to recover its financial investment in Washington (an amount of approximately $76 million) under the North American Free Trade Agreement, siting lost value of its local operations. Cooke Aquaculture’s final lease in Washington State expires in 2023.