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Finfish net pen aquaculture banned in Washington

The ban comes after a 2017 net pen collapse that released about 250,000 nonnative Atlantic salmon into Washington waters.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this photo provided by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a crane and boats are anchored next to a collapsed "net pen" used by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to farm Atlantic Salmon near Cypress Island in Washington state on Aug. 28, 2017, after a failure of the nets allowed tens of thousands of the nonnative fish to escape. A Washington state jury on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, awarded the Lummi Indian tribe $595,000 over the 2017 collapse of the net pen where Atlantic salmon were being raised, an event that elicited fears of damage to wild salmon runs and prompted the Legislature to ban the farming of the nonnative fish. (David Bergvall/Washington State Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)

SEATTLE — Washington will no longer have net pen aquaculture in state-owned waters.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced Friday an executive order that prohibits commercial finfish net pen aquaculture on Department of Natural Resources-run aquatic lands.

The move comes after hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped during a 2017 net pen collapse at Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island fish farm, which prompted fears about damage to native salmon runs and led the state legislature in 2018 to ban farming of nonnative fish.

“Through my order today, we are removing one unnecessary threat from our marine ecosystem,” Franz said. “This is a critical step to support our waters, fishermen and women, tribes, and the native salmon that we are so ferociously fighting to save.”

DNR has denied Cooke Aquaculture’s request to re-lease sites to continue finfish net pen aquaculture. The company has until Dec. 14 to finish operations, begin removing its facilities and repairing any environmental damage.

DNR said it determined that allowing Cooke to continue operating posed environmental risks due to a lack of adherence to its leases and additional costs to DNR for monitoring and enforcement.

The Hope Island lease expired in March and has been month-to-month since then. The Rich Passage lease expired in November.

After the August 2017 pen collapse, the state Department of Ecology fined Cooke $332,000 and found the company negligent. Cooke also faced litigation from nonprofits and tribes who said the collapse posed a threat to their culture.

In 2018, Cooke Aquaculture began farming steelhead trout.

The executive order aligns Washington’s net pen salmon aquaculture policy with Alaska, California and Oregon, according to DNR.

The order does not apply to hatcheries that boost native fish stocks.

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