Cooke Aquaculture forced out of Washington State

Washington State authorities have informed Canadian seafood company Cooke Aquaculture that its finfish net pen aquaculture leases on state-owned aquatic territories will not be renewed and that it has until December 14 to wrap up operations.

For years, the New Brunswick company has been farming Atlantic salmon locally, but it switched to farming steelhead trout when Washington State banned the farming of non-native species (i.e., Atlantic salmon)  in March 2019.

The ban stemmed from the  collapse of Cooke’s net pens in 2017 where 263,000 Atlantic salmon escaped. Cooke was fined $332,000 for that incident.

On Monday, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said it will not renew the leases of Cooke’s farms – one expired in March and has been in month-to-month holdover status since, while the other expired in November.

DNR’s letters denying an extension of Cooke’s leases lists several areas where the firm violated terms of the leases, said the agency.

It said further that it “determined that allowing Cooke to continue operations posed risks of environmental harm to state-owned aquatic lands resulting from lack of adherence to lease provisions and increased costs to DNR associated with contract compliance, monitoring, and enforcement.”

“Since the catastrophic Cypress Island net pen collapse in 2017, I have stood tall to defend the waters of Puget Sound,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

“This effort began by terminating finfish net pen operations due to lease violations. Despite years of litigation – and a company that has fought us every step of the way – we are now able to deny lease renewals for the remaining net pen sites. Today, we are returning our waters to wild fish and natural habitat. Today, we are freeing Puget Sound of enclosed cages.”

Cooke Aquaculture Vice President for Public Relations, Joel Richardson, declined to comment on the matter when contacted by SalmonBusiness.

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