Washington clamps down on Cooke salmon pens

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific lost the lease of its Atlantic salmon net pen site in Port Angeles, Wash., late last week. Hilary Franz, the state’s commissioner of public lands terminated the lease on the grounds that it poses a public and environmental risk.

Franz said the farm site — which includes one large pen with 14 cages and one small pen with six cages — is operating outside of the boundaries of its lease agreement and is causing a navigation hazard.

The state put a hold on all new permitting for mariculture while it investigates the effects of farming Atlantic salmon in the territory of wild Pacific salmon. But soon after the moratorium was in place, Cooke further complicated its relationship with the state government by dropping a million juvenile salmon into an empty net pen, despite state agency requests that they hold off until after the investigation.

That pen happened to have been the site of a protest following the company’s massive spill of invasive Atlantic salmon into state waters this summer, which sparked a public outcry that led to the permitting moratorium.

The company’s response to the spill was slow and underwhelming, first blaming it erroneously on the solar eclipse and then suggesting that fishermen should be grateful for the extra catch.

The condition of the failed pen in the months before it collapsed led the state to investigate all of the aquaculture company’s local net pens.

“An inspection of the Port Angeles site from December 4-9 revealed significant lease violations that endanger public safety and the health of Puget Sound,” said Carlo Davis, communications director for the state Department of Natural Resources, in an email to the Seattle Times this week.

Protest organizer the Wild Ocean Conservancy filed a lawsuit against Cooke in November, and the Washington Legislature is also considering several bills that would ban open ocean net pens in state waters.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 12 years, worked in maritime publishing for 17, and has served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee for two years.

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