SEATTLE — After noting several violations following an inspection earlier this month, earlier this month the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has terminated Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s Port Angeles net pen lease. According to Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the salmon farm poses serious risks to the environment and the public. With more than 700,000 Atlantic salmon in pens at the farm, DNR has requested the facility be dismantled.
The inspection was prompted by an incident in August in which a net pen operated by Cooke Aquaculture containing 305,000 Atlantic salmon collapsed near Cypress Island, releasing more than half the salmon into Puget Sound. Officials noted several violations at the farm, including missing or damaged anchor lines, some of which are sitting outside the lease area, and fragments of Styrofoam crumbling off its floats.
Franz said the Washington Department of Natural Resources will work with Cooke Aquaculture Pacific and other state agencies to complete an orderly shutdown and removal of the farm in Port Angeles.
The company also operates a fish farm at Cypress Island where the escape occurred in August.
In a news release Sunday, Franz said that after the fish escape she directed her staff to inspect every net pen in the state to make sure the company was meeting its contract and that the state’s waters were safe.
“It is now clear that Cooke has been violating the lease terms for its Port Angeles net pens,” Franz wrote. “In light of this violation, and in fulfillment of my commitment to protect our lands and waters, I am terminating the lease.”
Franz said the farm is outside the boundaries of its lease and causing a navigation hazard. She also said the company has failed to maintain the salmon farm in a safe condition, posing the risk of another fish escape. The farm currently holds about 700,000 Atlantic salmon.
Cooke Aquaculture Pacific spokesman Joel Richardson said the company learned of the lease termination Friday and is “evaluating their request.”
House Republican Reps. Jim Walsh and Drew MacEwen recently introduced a bill to ban Atlantic salmon farming in marine waters regulated by Washington state. Walsh, R-Aberdeen, says he’s pleased Franz’s actions indicate she’s joining the fight for the right public policy for Atlantic salmon farming. Walsh had this to say about DNR’s recent decision to terminate Cooke’s lease in Port Angeles:
“It’s good to see DNR agrees with Rep. MacEwen and me that these fish farms, and the net-pen structures used for them, are an immediate threat to the public waters of the state of Washington. The risk these fish farms pose to our native stocks of Pacific salmon are real and deserve the attention of all state agencies that have jurisdiction over public waters and aquaculture.
“Going forward, we need to look at revising public policy and statute with regard to Atlantic fish farms and net-pen structures. I hope to work with other legislators from both chambers on good bills that protect our public waters on a permanent basis. We need to ensure the ‘great Atlantic fish escape of 2017’ remains a singular event, helping us form good public policy in the future.”
MacEwen, R-Union, applauded DNR for taking steps to protect native Pacific salmon in Washington’s waters:
“With DNR’s latest findings indicating unsafe conditions within Cooke’s Port Angeles facility, it’s even clearer we must end Atlantic salmon farming in our waters,” he said. “Months after the Atlantics escaped, we’re still finding them alive as far as 42 miles up the Skagit River, where they pose a threat to Pacific salmon habitat. DNR’s decision to terminate Cooke’s net pen lease has set us on the right path forward in protecting our native salmon populations.”
The 2018 legislative session, which will run for 60 consecutive days, begins Jan. 8.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.