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 on Aug. 28, 2017, after a failure of the nets allowed tens of thousands of the nonnative fish to escape. (David Bergvall / Washington State Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)

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 on Aug. 28, 2017, after a failure of the nets allowed tens of thousands of the nonnative fish to escape. (David Bergvall / Washington State Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)

Seafood company sues over terminated fish-farming pen leases

Cooke Aquaculture has filed an appeal against the state’s decision to end its leases for fish-farming.

  • By Wire Service
  • Friday, December 16, 2022 1:08pm
  • Northwest

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Cooke Aquaculture has filed an appeal against Washington state’s decision to end its leases for fish-farming in state waters with net pens.

In court documents filed Wednesday, the New Brunswick, Canada-based seafood giant said that the decision was arbitrary, politically motivated and contrary to science, KNKX reported.

In a statement, Cooke said it has a state Supreme Court ruling and legislative mandate on its side that supports the farming of native species. It also said that the 30-day deadline to harvest fish and to remove all farm equipment from two sites was unreasonable.

State Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz last month issued an executive order banning the aquaculture method, which involves raising fish in large floating pens anchored in the water, citing danger to struggling native salmon. The company had been told the previous week that their remaining leases wouldn’t be renewed.

The state Department of Natural Resources originally set a deadline of Dec. 14 for Cooke to remove its facilities from leased areas at Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island, and Hope Island in Skagit Bay, but the agency has since extended the deadline for removal of fish to Jan. 14 and removal of Cooke’s net pens to April 14.

In response to Wednesday’s filing, Franz said that Cooke had ample time to prepare operationally and financially for this decision.

“My denial of Cooke’s application is well supported by the law and their long track record of violating the terms of their leases,” she said in a statement.

In 2017, tens of thousands of the company’s nonnative Atlantic salmon escaped after a pen break near the San Juan Islands. That sparked calls to end nonnative fish farming in Washington — with 20 Western Washington treaty tribes at the forefront citing that the method undermines tribal treaty fishing rights.

Cooke pivoted to raise steelhead trout but Department of Natural Resources officials determined that Cooke’s operations could pose risks to the state’s environment.

California, Oregon and Alaska have outlawed net-pen aquaculture, and Canada is working on a plan to phase it out of British Columbia’s coastal waters by 2025. Supporters say fish-farming is an environmentally safe way to feed the world’s growing population; critics argue that it can spread disease to native stocks and degrade the environment.

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