SEATTLE– Despite ongoing litigation and timing issues over the lease for the facility, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has granted fish farm giant Cooke Aquaculture a permit to store net pens in the water at its facility. Hope Island with rainbow trout.
A group of conservation groups have challenged the initial storage permits for rainbow trout in Cooke’s net pens, and that challenge will be heard by the Washington Supreme Court in September. Fish farms can degrade water quality, introduce disease to native fish populations, and threaten endangered animals like southern resident killer whales.
But the new license, signed on August 5 by the department, will allow 365,000 rainbow trout to be transported and placed in the Cooke facility off Hope Island, in southern Puget Sound, before the decision of the court.
“We feel blinded by this rapid process, which could cause major environmental damage,” said Sophia Ressler, Washington wildlife lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The storage of this facility has the potential to contaminate our waters and threaten species so dear to our Puget Sound ecosystem. ”
The lease for the facility expires in March 2022. According to Cooke’s schedule, this is well before the 365,000 rainbow trout are farmed at the facility. Without a valid lease for this farm beyond this deadline, Cooke would be forced to remove these fish and move them.
“Right now, the highest court in Washington is deciding whether Cooke Aquaculture’s new project should have been approved. Before the end of the year, the court could strike down every permit granted to Cooke and demand the full environmental review demanded by tribal nations, elected officials and thousands of members of the public, ”said Kurt Beardslee of Wild Fish Conservancy. “This decision to approve the transport of fish to the Puget Sound net pens while the court decision is pending is fundamentally reckless and further demonstrates an alarming tendency by state agencies to push through the wishes of a billion dollar industry ahead of wild salmon salvage, tribal treaty rights and public best interest.
“The state let down the public and our endangered wild fish when it granted these permits and allowing the restocking while our case is pending in the Washington Supreme Court is the epitome of irresponsibility,” Amy said. van Saun, Senior Counsel for the Center. for food security. “Industrial fish farming is not in the public interest.”
“We are dismayed to see the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife once again give the green light to Cooke’s plan to industrially harvest rainbow trout in Puget Sound,” said Hallie Templeton, senior activist for the oceans and Deputy Legal Director of Friends of the Earth. “The fact that this license was issued prior to oral arguments in our appeal regarding the agency’s aquaculture license is a slap in the face to all Washingtonians and the wildlife who depend on a clean and safe Puget Sound.”
Following a catastrophic failure at one of Cooke’s facilities in 2017, Washington state passed legislation phasing out all Atlantic salmon fillet aquaculture by 2022. Permits issued by the Department of Fishing and Wildlife allow Cooke to continue to operate his net pens, which are placed directly in the waters of Puget Sound, by growing rainbow trout instead of Atlantic salmon.
During a public comment period in fall 2019, thousands of Washington citizens and organizations filed comments with the state agency, calling for an overwhelming majority to stop the proposal. and urging the state to draft a new “environmental impact statement” on open water aquaculture net pens. .
Instead, the state’s wildlife department issued a permit that was based on cursory analysis and a “softened determination of irrelevance.” Calls for further scrutiny have come from conservationists, commercial fishermen and anglers, lawmakers, other state agencies and at least five tribal governments in the lands around Puget Sound.
Washington is the only state on the Pacific Coast to allow these facilities. In early 2020, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his intention to move all industrial open-water aquaculture from British Columbia to land-based facilities by 2025.
Conservation groups that have taken up this challenge are represented by Kammpeier & Knutsen, PLLC and lawyers from the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity.