First commercial fish farm proposed for Strait of Juan de Fuca

King 5's Alison Morrow reports

A proposed commercial fish farm would be the first of its kind for the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If allowed, the fish farm would increase Atlantic salmon production in the Port Angeles area by 20 percent.

Because the farm would sit at the entrance and exit for fish in Puget Sound, some environmental activists are sounding their concerned about disease, especially in an area with endangered salmon already on the decline.

"We just restored the Elwha River and now you want to put a feedlot right outside the Elwha River. They don't need to put this into the open environment. They could put these fish on land, but they won't do it because it costs them money. They're being subsidized by the destruction of wild ecosystems," said Pete Knutson.

Pete Knutson is a commercial salmon fisherman who owns Loki Fish Co. He points to past fish farm problems with sea lice, viruses and pollution.

The owner, Cooke Aquaculture, has operated fish farms for decades and promise the company is dedicated to environmental stewardship.

"Our fish won't be healthy if we don't take care of the environment," explained Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Nell Halse. "Puget Sound is ideal for salmon farming, but only a handful of sites exist right now. We made the investments in those sites because we believe in the long-term future of the industry here. We have a 30-year track record of success in Clallam County and want to keep farming here."

NOAA's scientific advisor on aquaculture, Mike Rust, believes fish farming is here to stay if the world's growing population wants to eat seafood. He also points to environmental damage from large land-based farms and says aquaculture is a better alternative.

"I wish it was as simple as catching more fish. Unfortunately, that maxed out two decades ago. We're getting every fin we can out of the ocean and any further increases are going to have to come out of aquaculture," he said.

But critics call that a marketing ploy, since farmed fish are fed wild fish and bite into wild fish populations to survive.

"If you're concerned about the production of wild protein to feed hunger on the planet, this is not the answer," Knutson said.

Scientists on the project are still examining potential environmental impact, like ensuring the farm does not violate several federal laws such as the Clean Water Act.

"We have all these different things which prescribe that when we do something in the ocean, we check all those boxes. The issue of it being a significant risk to endangered salmon runs just isn't there," Rust said.

Copyright 2016 KING


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