Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s work area and office west of the Coast Guard station on Ediz Hook serves the company’s salmon farm that the state Department of Natural Resources said last month must be shut down. Photo by Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s work area and office west of the Coast Guard station on Ediz Hook serves the company’s salmon farm that the state Department of Natural Resources said last month must be shut down. Photo by Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News

New bill could put Washington salmon farms in jeopardy

The bill is at least partially in response to an August incident in which 30,000 Atlantic salmon escaped.

A senate committee is considering a bill that could bring an end to some of Washington state’s largest salmon farms.

Senate Bill 6086, heard in committee on Tuesday, Jan. 9, is sponsored by 11 Democratic senators and calls for a ban on the use of Atlantic salmon and other non-native fish in marine aquaculture.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, as part of his proposed Salish Sea Protection package, which also includes measures to protect orca whales and fund oil spill prevention.

SB 6086 comes on the heels of an August incident at Cypress Island in which at least 30,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into the Puget Sound from a net pen facility operated by Canadian company Cooke Aquaculture, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Cooke acquired the Cypress Island facility in 2016, along with three others in Puget Sound.

“The incident at our Cypress Island farm over the summer was certainly regrettable, and we are doing all we can as a company to take responsibility and address it,” Cooke Aquaculture Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson wrote in a press release. “We acknowledge that the fish escapement prompted some understandable fears and concerns about the impact of Atlantic salmon on the health of native stocks, but we are urging lawmakers to recognize that these fears are not borne out by the history or the best available science.”

Carlo Davis, communications director for the Washington state Department of Natural Resources, said the science on nonnative fish is not yet definitive, but added that the lack of certainty is a cause for concern.

Davis said the department has not yet taken a position on any pending legislation, and is still assessing the impacts of net pen escapements. Representatives from the state departments of ecology and fish and wildlife said their agencies were also neutral on the bill.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is a co-sponsor of the bill and serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks. The senator said the bill should easily receive approval from Democratic members of the committee, but he expressed uncertainty regarding Republican opinions.

Van de Wege said he has always been concerned with net pens, and feels the potential environmental benefits make up for the loss of salmon farming jobs. The senator also suggested that businesses could resort to upland farming to avoid the dangers of net pen escapements, since the ban would apply only to marine facilities.

In Cooke’s press release, the company claimed that 80 full-time jobs were at stake, as well as more than 100 related jobs and $70 million in Washington’s economy. Richardson expressed support for legislative solutions to incidents like the one at Cypress Island, but advocated for less restrictive measures such as regular inspections and more rigorous research.

Ranker said that it doesn’t make sense to keep nonnative species in state waters while simultaneously trying to create a cleaner environment. The Senator indicated the spread of disease as among his top concerns, especially with so many fish kept in close proximity.

“It’s like a preschool,” Ranker said. “Every single fish begins to get sick.”

But Cooke and other bill opponents said that science does not support the idea that non-native salmon could pose a threat to local populations, and that the long history of Atlantic salmon farming has demonstrated as much.

Cooke Aquaculture General Manager Innis Weir said the characteristics that make Atlantic salmon well-suited for farming make them ill-suited for survival in the Northwest, and that they have never proven able to thrive in such a climate.

Randy Hodgin, site manager for Cooke’s Port Angeles facility, said he has spent more than 30 years working in salmon farms, and said his career has allowed him to raise a family in Port Angeles. Hodgin said the facility has a history of giving back to the community, which includes a $15,000 scholarship to students at Port Angeles High School.

Another take on the issue was introduced by Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, who serves as the committee’s vice chair. McCoy asked Cooke representatives about their business’ potential interference with tribal fishermen.

“You’re placing your economic value ahead of tribal value, and I find that very egregious,” McCoy said. “That’s my problem with this net pen operation stuff.” McCoy is a member of the Tulalip Tribes.

Troy Olsen of the Lummi Nation said he has a spiritual connection to the San Juan Islands, and asked why Lummi waters should be violated by a nonnative species of fish.

“We have been here since time immemorial, and our way of life is threatened every day,” Olsen said. “I ask myself all the time, ‘what are we going to leave for our children?’”

Of the 20,000 fish that were recovered from the Cypress Island incident, about 4,000 were caught by Lummi fishing boats, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Lummi Nation Chairman Jeremiah Julius said his people have a right to the Sound by treaty, while Cooke Aquaculture only has a privilege.

“I’m a fisherman for over 100 generations,” Julius said. “These are our waters; the bones of our ancestors are buried in these waters.”

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@federalwaymirror.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.federalwaymirror.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Northwest

Screenshot of April 5 Edmonds City Council meeting. Inset (L-R): Mayor Mike Nelson and council members Kristiana Johnson, Will Chen, Neil Tibbott, Diane Buckshnis, Vivian Olson, Susan Paine and Laura Johnson. (City of Edmonds)
After long debate, Edmonds bans homeless people from living outside

The criminal law is unenforceable if no shelter is open within 35 miles. The City Council approved it over public outcry.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

Sound Publishing archives
Cannabis DUI challenge rejected by state Supreme Court

Everett man argued the law must be tossed because legal limit for THC is not supported by science.

Tsr
No more stolen sisters: How WA is responding to missing and murdered Indigenous people

Across the state, 126 Indigenous people remain missing, with 31 having gone missing in King County.

President Joe Biden. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Biden visits Seattle and Green River College during trip to Pacific Northwest

The president will stress infrastructure in Portland and Seattle while raising money for the Democratic Party.

The Sammamish Valley is home to a collection of farms, wineries and tasting rooms. File photo
The Sammamish Valley is home to a collection of farms, wineries and tasting rooms. File photo
King County continues to grapple with alcohol rules in rural areas

Much of the debate surrounds wineries, breweries and distilleries operating as retail businesses.

Teaser
How a Ukrainian and Russian couple escaped a war zone

“We will never forget that sound. Boom. Boom,” said Valeriia Horodnycha, who has been staying in Mercer Island.

Sunset at Mount Rainier. NPS
Mount Rainier park approves nine new lahar monitoring stations

The new monitors can give local communities up to 10 extra minutes to evacuate in case of a disaster.

Metro Creative Graphics Photo
Health board decides against COVID vaccine requirement for students

The state Board of Health wants to see more data for younger children.

Tulalip council members and tribal members watch as Governor Jay Inslee signs bill HB 1571 into law at the Tulalip Resort on Thursday, March 31, 2022 in Tulalip, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New alert system aims to bring home missing Indigenous people

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law creating the new system. Families of the missing and murdered say it’s a start.

File photo
Cannabis stakeholders want cash out of the equation amid rash of robberies

State regulators say action from Congress is required for cannabis industry to use credit cards.