State commissioner of public lands Franz announces end to net pen aquaculture
A decision announced Friday could bring an end to controversial net pen fish farms in Washington waters.
State lands commissioner Hilary Franz said the Department of Natural Resources will no longer issue leases for the pens, saying they’re a threat to the marine ecosystem.
“Today we are truly freeing Washington state’s aquatic lands from enclosed cages,” Franz said at a news event on Bainbridge Island.
Her executive order means state-owned aquatic lands can no longer be used for net pen fish farming.
“Commercial finfish net pens are not in the best interest of Washington state,” Franz said.
In 2017, a Cooke Aquaculture fish pen collapsed off Cypress Island, sending hundreds of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea.
Wild fish advocates say tests on the farmed salmon showed they were diseased as they competed with native fish for food and habitat.
The legislature phased out Atlantic salmon in Washington and Cooke Aquaculture switched to raising sterile steelhead trout.
The company employs 34 people in Washington.
Aquaculture workers showed up to protest the announcement.
“There are a lot of things that affect the health and welfare of Puget Sound. But to sit here and put this on our back is an absolutely gross scientific farce,” said longtime employee Andrew Sloaf.
Aquaculture advocates say the Cypress Island collapse had no effect on native fish, and that the industry has worked with regulators to improve.
Cooke Aquaculture and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe propose a fish farm near Port Angeles.
Several other tribes support ending the pens.
“We really work hard as a tribe to reverse and prevent the industrialization of Puget Sound,” said Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe.
Earlier this week, DNR canceled Cooke’s leases on its two remaining pens, saying the company repeatedly violated lease agreements and needs to wrap up operations next month.
A Cooke Aquaculture spokeswoman said the company was disappointed by the decision and focused on its employees.
Asked if the company plans to sue, the spokeswoman answered, “we’re looking into our options.”