Cooke says advocacy group trying to take over Washington leases is using them as “fundraising foil”

“Mr. Beardslee seems enamored with using Cooke as a fundraising device.”

In July, SalmonBusiness reported that Cooke’s Washington State Clam Bay, Fort Ward, Orchard Rocks and Hope Island net pens leases were being contested by the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC).

The conservation and environmental group want to give the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) a choice: Either lease the 130 acres of aquatic lands to WFC so it can keep Cooke’s remaining salmon farm permits in the state in a trust. Or give them to Cooke for fish farming.

Late last month, SalmonBusiness looked at WFC’s past wins the courtroom to ascertain if it had a chance. For example, WFC sued Cooke in August 2017 which resulted in a USD 2.75 million settlement over 2017’s 250,000 Atlantic salmon Puget Sound escape.

At the time, neither WFC nor Cooke were available for comment.

The Kitsap Sun talked to both on the subject of WFC’s “unusual competition”.

“I think that from every aspect, our proposal completely outweighs the pollution and harm to Puget Sound that Cooke offers,” said WFC co-founder and Executive Director Kurt Beardslee. He added that he wanted Cooke and other salmon farmers to move to land-based facilities. “Industry representatives often claim transitioning to land-based facilities is simply too expensive,” he said.

However, Vice-President Public Relations Joel Richardson said that said the advocacy group was using Cooke as a “fundraising foil” and that it was using “sensational antics”.

“Mr. Beardslee seems enamored with using Cooke as a fundraising device, despite signing onto a legal settlement with Cooke where Cooke agreed to every one of WFC’s demands,” Richardson told the publication.

“It is worth noting that Cooke raised the question of partnering with WFC or other environmental organizations on habitat restoration, and other wild fish projects like Cooke participates in worldwide. WFC had no interest in that discussion — highlighting WFC’s desire to use Cooke as a fundraising foil, rather than actually trying to accomplish meaningful change with respect to wild fisheries,” he added.

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