NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 8th, 2017

Washington State must protect its waters and native salmon by banishing fish farms

Res­i­dents of Wash­ing­ton’s Olympic Penin­su­la have been close­ly mon­i­tor­ing devel­op­ments stem­ming from the the escape of pos­si­bly more than 160,000 non-native Atlantic salmon from an indus­tri­al fish farm near Cypress Island.

Photo showing Atlantic Salmon Net Pen Failure at Cooke's fish farm

One of sev­er­al pho­tos tak­en by the Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources show­ing Cooke Aqua­cul­ture’s ruined fish farm near Cypress Island in the San Juans. Click the image to see the whole pho­to col­lec­tion in high res­o­lu­tion. (Repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license.)

Here is my take on this issue.

Some back­ground: In 1972, Con­gress enact­ed the Coastal Zone Man­age­ment Act, (CZMA). Each coastal state was asked to devel­op a coastal man­age­ment plan. One of the fea­tures of the Act used to lure states into the pro­gram was the fed­er­al con­sis­ten­cy clause, sec­tion 307. It requires fed­er­al actions that affect a state’s coastal zone to con­form to a state’s coastal man­age­ment plan.

In 1980, the Depart­ment of Inte­ri­or pro­posed a sale of oil and gas leas­es in the out­er con­ti­nen­tal shelf off California’s coast. Cal­i­for­nia fought this sale on grounds that it vio­lat­ed sec­tion 307. A divid­ed U.S. Supreme Court even­tu­al­ly ruled in favor of the Depart­ment of Inte­ri­or, revers­ing two low­er fed­er­al courts.

More than a decade lat­er, Con­gress amend­ed sec­tion 307 in response to this Supreme Court rul­ing, to clar­i­fy and affirm coastal states’ con­sis­ten­cy rights.

The Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA) has shown inter­est in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of even­tu­al­ly expand­ing aqua­cul­ture fur­ther away from the coast, mean­ing the waters in the Exclu­sive Eco­nom­ic Zone (EEZ) between three and two hun­dred miles off­shore.

The intent is to reverse a seafood trade imbal­ance. Fed­er­al pol­i­cy­mak­ers are look­ing to expand aqua­cul­ture and grow the indus­try in the Unit­ed States.

Due to Alaska’s strong stance against the indus­try and the fact that the Alas­ka Coastal Man­age­ment Act dis­al­lows fish farms, Alas­ka is like­ly to use sec­tion 307 to ban and oppose any effort of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to open its waters to the kind of com­mer­cial farm­ing activ­i­ty that has been allowed down south.

Wash­ing­ton State’s stance has been weak­er. Three coun­ties adopt­ed shore­line man­age­ment plans that dis­al­lowed or made place­ment of fish farms in their waters prob­lem­at­ic. These plans help make up Wash­ing­ton’s coastal man­age­ment plan.

The Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Ecol­o­gy, pres­sured by fed­er­al pol­i­cy­mak­ers, recent­ly made these three coun­ties (of which Jef­fer­son is one) write new Shore­line Man­age­ment Plans that allowed for the place­ment of fish farms in their waters.

Peo­ple in Jef­fer­son Coun­ty respond­ed with protests and peti­tions, and the coun­ty com­mis­sion­ers worked with Kevin Van De Wege (then a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, now a state sen­a­tor) to intro­duce leg­is­la­tion to allow coun­ties to ban net pen aqua­cul­ture. (That leg­is­la­tion, HB 1599, received a hear­ing but unfor­tu­nate­ly did not advance.)

Then-Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Phil John­son, a for­mer com­mer­cial salmon fish­er who has adamant­ly opposed in-water fish farm­ing, hailed the bill “as a step in the right direc­tion”. And I’d like to add: What good is sec­tion 307 if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is influ­enc­ing what our Coastal Man­age­ment Plan allows or doesn’t allow?

There are many threats from indus­tri­al fish farms.

One is the real pos­si­bil­i­ty of spread­ing virus­es from farmed Atlantic salmon to native salmon, threat­en­ing their sur­vival and sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

Piscine reovirus was first iden­ti­fied in Nor­way. It results in heart and mus­cle inflam­ma­tion caus­ing lethar­gy. In wild salmon it could impact their abil­i­ty to escape preda­tors. It has been found in wild salmon of British Colum­bia.

Infec­tious salmon ane­mia is very con­ta­gious and dead­ly, like­ly has a Euro­pean ori­gin, and if detect­ed in any farm, total erad­i­ca­tion is required.

Hematopoi­et­ic necro­sis (PDF), mean­while, can be one hun­dred per­cent mor­tal to fry and adults that sur­vive become car­ri­ers.

Anoth­er prob­lem is that wild smolts migrate pass fish farms on their way to sea and many are infect­ed with sea lice, which weak­ens them and reduces their sur­vival rates.

Fish farms also have adverse impacts on her­ring and oth­er for­age fish pop­u­la­tions as they are attract­ed to fish farms. There are tons of pol­lu­tants from the farms them­selves that set­tle under­neath. Farmed salmon often escape, some­times in large num­bers, as we just saw this past month.

Atlantic salmon prey on the same food as wild salmon and are sus­pect­ed of prey­ing on young wild salmon smolt if the escape­ment occurs dur­ing their migra­tion to sea. There is also the fear they may spawn and prop­a­gate.

Of the two places in the world where fish farms have been locat­ed in waters shared with native salmon, the native salmon pop­u­la­tions plunged and com­mer­cial fish­eries depen­dent on them have been hit hard (Nor­way and British Colum­bia).

Com­mer­cial fish farms have no place in Wash­ing­ton’s marine envi­ron­ment or rivers.

Land based facil­i­ties with no con­nec­tion to a riv­er show promise as an alter­na­tive.

If we con­tin­ue in the direc­tion we are head­ed, with the waters of the Pacif­ic sim­ply con­sid­ered anoth­er resource in need of exploita­tion, I fear for the future of our native fish­eries. NPI believes that we must act as a state to pro­tect our salmon and our her­itage from fur­ther destruc­tion. We need more than a mora­to­ri­um on fish farms in our waters: we need to fol­low Alaska’s exam­ple and insti­tute a total ban.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for tak­ing up this cause.

    We got involved in it about thir­ty yeas ago thru the Oak Bay Coali­tion and the Marine Envi­ron­men­tal Con­sor­tium which stretched from the south Puget Sound north thru BC waters. We were, and still are, fight­ing BIG Euro­pean inter­ests which had the fore­sight, mon­ey and lob­by­ists to get lwas and poli­cies in place favor­ing this hor­ri­ble indus­try.

    The chick­ens (in this case Atlantic cage grown salmon) have come home to roost)!

    Hope­ful­ly, our leg­is­la­ture and the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment will now put a stop to this
    indus­try in my life­time.
    dw

    # by Dave Woodruff :: September 11th, 2017 at 10:23 AM