The Washington State Department of Ecology is accepting comments on permit renewals for four Cooke Aquaculture net-pen facilities in the state.

If granted, the permits will remain in effect until a state ban on net-pen farming comes into effect in 2022.

Cooke leases the areas it uses for fish farming from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, but oversight of its compliance with permits is also performed by Washington’s Department of Ecology. Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a press release she would hold Cooke accountable “to the strongest water quality protections we can put in place.”

“We must protect our waters and native salmon from another disastrous collapse,” Bellon said.

Ecology will be incorporating the lessons learned from the August 2017 collapse at Cooke’s Cypress Island site — which led to the escape of more than 250,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound — into the conditions of the permits. According to Ecology’s website, among the updated protective measures are: increasing underwater video monitoring of net pens, conducting inspections to assess structural integrity of the pens, improving net cleaning and maintenance procedures, and requiring Cooke to develop site-specific response plans in the event of an accidental fish release.

Comments on the permits will be heard until Feb. 25, and the comment period will also include three public hearings: one in Anacortes, Washington, one in Bainbridge Island, Washington, and one by webinar. Responses to the comments will be published by Ecology, which said it expects to reach a final decision on the permits sometime in spring 2019.

In August of 2017, Washington Governor Jay Inslee directed state agencies to put a hold on any new net-pen farm permits until the investigation into the Cypress Island spill was completed. In March of last year, with the investigation complete, Inslee signed House Bill 2957 into law, which will ban all net-pen farming for non-native species by 2022.

This story was originally published on and is republished here with permission.

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