NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

Net pen aquaculture in Washington’s waters must end, Commissioner Hilary Franz orders

Last week, in a move applaud­ed by trib­al nations, Wash­ing­ton’s Com­mis­sion­er of Pub­lic Lands Hilary Franz made the announce­ment that the Ever­green State’s pub­licly owned aquat­ic lands will no longer host any open water fish farms.

The Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources is ter­mi­nat­ing Cooke Aqua­cul­ture’s remain­ing two fin­fish net pen aqua­cul­ture facil­i­ties leas­es. The com­pa­ny will have a few weeks “to fin­ish oper­a­tions and begin remov­ing its facil­i­ties and repair­ing any envi­ron­men­tal dam­age,” the agency said on Novem­ber 18th.

“As we’ve seen too clear­ly here in Wash­ing­ton, there is no way to safe­ly farm fin­fish in open sea net pens with­out jeop­ar­diz­ing our strug­gling native salmon,” Franz said in a state­ment. “Today, I’m announc­ing an end to the practice.”

“We, as a state, are going to do bet­ter by our salmon, by our fish­er­men, and by our tribes. Com­mer­cial fin­fish farm­ing is detri­men­tal to salmon, orcas and marine habi­tat. I’m proud to stand with the rest of the west coast today by say­ing our waters are far too impor­tant to risk for fish farm­ing profits.”

This deci­sion has been a long time com­ing. Envi­ron­men­tal­ists, fish­er­men, tribes and oth­ers have worked for decades to get fish farms out of Wash­ing­ton’s waters.

“After the incred­i­ble news announced ear­li­er this week, it is almost impos­si­ble to believe we are now cel­e­brat­ing an even big­ger, ground­break­ing vic­to­ry for our wild salmon, orcas, and the health of Puget Sound,” said Emma Helver­son, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Wild Fish Con­ser­van­cy, in a press release. “By deny­ing new leas­es to Cooke and bring­ing for­ward this com­pre­hen­sive, bold new pol­i­cy to pre­vent com­mer­cial net pens from ever oper­at­ing in Wash­ing­ton marine waters again, Com­mis­sion­er Franz is ensur­ing Puget Sound will be pro­tect­ed, not just now, but far into the future for the ben­e­fit of gen­er­a­tions to come.”

“This ends a long his­to­ry of indus­try ‘spokes­peo­ple’ who have been involved with Marine Resources Com­mit­tees both in Clal­lam and Jef­fer­son Coun­ties, tout­ing the ben­e­fits of these pens and dis­rupt­ing any­one com­ing for­ward to raise con­cerns, such as when Pro­fes­sor Dill, a researcher from a dis­tin­guished Cana­di­an Uni­ver­si­ty came to Port Ange­les a few years ago to dis­cuss his sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly based con­cerns and was shout­ed down by indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” wrote Al Berg­stein, edi­tor and pub­lish­er of the Olympic Penin­su­la Envi­ron­men­tal News.

If you’d like a refresh­er on the destruc­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions of open net pen fish farms, the David Suzu­ki Foun­da­tion has a good primer at its website.

“A 2021 Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia study con­firmed that farmed fish are trans­fer­ring PRV to wild salmon, and found that prox­im­i­ty to fish farms increas­es the like­li­hood of wild Chi­nook being infect­ed,” a May 5th post doc­u­ment­ing the sup­pressed sci­ence explains. “One of the orig­i­nal DFO study’s authors, fed­er­al biol­o­gist Kristi Miller-Saun­ders, called the delay a ‘trav­es­ty’ that has con­tributed to ongo­ing doubt about viral impacts of fish farms on wild salmon.”

An exec­u­tive for Cooke Aqua­cul­ture said the com­pa­ny is unhappy.

“Cooke Aqua­cul­ture Pacif­ic was very dis­ap­point­ed to receive the Wash­ing­ton Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources (DNR) notices not to renew our two steel­head fish farm­ing leas­es in Rich Pas­sage off Bain­bridge Island and off Hope Island in Skag­it Bay. Reg­u­la­tors and pol­i­cy­mak­ers must respon­si­bly fol­low the sci­ence and judi­cial prece­dents in mak­ing key deci­sions regard­ing marine aqua­cul­ture, which we do not believe was the case in this instance,” said Cooke VP Joel Richard­son.

Hope­ful­ly, we have reached the point where we can final­ly put this destruc­tive prac­tice to rest in Wash­ing­ton. That leaves British Colum­bia, where the indus­try has a much larg­er pres­ence. Fish farms in B.C. are also slat­ed to be phased out, but will the province fol­low through and give com­pa­nies like Cooke the boot?

Remem­ber salmon orig­i­nat­ing from and return­ing to their home rivers and streams along the Pacif­ic west coast, cross bor­ders, min­gle and migrate far off shore, so it mat­ters what hap­pens in British Columbia.

Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, and Alas­ka thank­ful­ly nev­er allowed the fish farm indus­try to set up shop in their waters. Only Wash­ing­ton and British Colum­bia did.

Even after fish farms are fin­ished being ban­ished from the Sal­ish Sea, a boom­let of indus­tri­al off­shore facil­i­ties being devel­oped around the world could still threat­en the marine waters of the Pacif­ic Northwest.

While it is a big relief to see our aquat­ic lands lib­er­at­ed from Cooke’s messy and harm­ful oper­a­tions, the threat of fish farms is not gone.

Activists, tribes, and gov­ern­ments will need to work togeth­er to pro­tect the world com­mu­ni­ty and Earth­’s oceans from this prob­lem for years to come.

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