OLYMPIA — In response to a net collapse last summer that released hundreds of thousands of invasive Atlantic salmon into waters famed for their native salmon, the state Senate on Thursday passed a measure that aims to phase out salmon net-pen farming in Washington state.
The Seattle Times reports that the bill passed 35-12 and now heads to the House for consideration. It would end Atlantic salmon net-pen farming in the state as existing leases terminate by 2025.
At a news conference before the vote, Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed the measure, saying that Atlantic salmon farming is “a risk that is intolerable.”
“This risk is simply too great,” Inslee said. “It is no longer acceptable to the people of the state of Washington to expose our waters to the threat of Atlantic salmon net pens.”
The measure comes after last summer’s collapse of Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island farm, which resulted in state officials issuing a $332,000 fine to the company for alleged violations of Washington state water quality laws.
A report by state agencies found that Cooke Aquaculture Pacific failed to adequately clean nets holding farmed salmon, and nets failed because they were excessively laden with mussels and other marine organisms.
That increased the drag on the nets from tidal currents, overwhelming their mooring system leading to a net pen failure.
Company officials disputed the accuracy of that report and argued they were shut out of the investigative process.
Joel Richardson, vice president for public relations for Cooke Aquaculture, said at the time that the company acknowledges that the facility fell behind in cleaning the nets before moorings failed in July of 2017.
But he said the company provided records showing it had washed the nets at the site after that July incident and before the Aug. 19 event.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said the alleged negligent behavior cited in the state report can’t go unchecked. “More important, the day-in, day-out impacts on the magical, majestic Salish Sea cannot go unchecked.”
Twenty-one Native American tribal chairmen wrote to state lawmakers last month asking the industry be terminated as soon as possible because of the threat to wild salmon.
Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, voted against the measure, saying the net-pen breach was not an ecological disaster, but a loss for a legitimate business that employs people.
“A businessman lost his product — typically we would be sympathetic, rather than piling on,” he said.
Cooke already has lost leases to operate five of its nine net pens because of enforcement by State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, and is fighting in court the termination of one of the leases, at Port Angeles, saying it is based on a misunderstanding.
“While disappointed in this direction, our family owned company and our local employees are committed to working with legislators and regulators to continue operating our Washington fish farming sites sustainably,” Joel Richardson, vice president for public relations for Cooke Aquaculture, wrote in an email to the Times after the vote.