Cooke Aquaculture says it was blindsided by Washington State decision, will explore options to keep operations

Cooke Aquaculture says it was surprised by Washington State decision to not renew the company’s two steelhead fish farming leases in Puget Sound because it has been cooperating with local authorities and communities over the past five years to improve its operations and reduce its footprint.

The Canadian seafood company said Monday’s decision by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to not renew its two steelhead farming leases are not backed by scientific evidence from various bodies.

These include a finding by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in March 2022, which stated that marine finfish aquaculture in Puget Sound has “little to no negative impact on native species such as endangered salmon, Orcas, or their habitat.”

The company also said that the decision is contrary to the legislative directive that allows the farming of steelhead trout in the state. Cooke Aquaculture started farming steelhead trout, a native species, after a Washington State banned the farming of non-native species (i.e. Atlantic salmon) in March 2018.

Cooke stressed that the “compliance issues” that Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cited as the reasons it is not renewing the two leases stemmed from Cooke “assuming ownership of farms that fell into disrepair by the previous owner.”

It said it was already in the process of improving the operations of those farms but the farm unfortunately collapsed before the job was finished.

As a result of Monday’s decision, Cooke Aquaculture said it would be forced to kill 332,000 juvenile steelhead that were planned to be stocked at Rich Passage and Hope Island in 2023.

“This is a tragic outcome for fish that should have been healthy, sustainable, food for our communities,” said Cooke Aquaculture Vice President for Public Relations, Joel Richardson.

He said the priority for the company now is its employees in Washington State, whose livelihood has now been put in jeopardy.

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