Washington State announces blanket ban on finfish net pen farming

No finfish farming operation using net pens will be allowed on the state-owned aquatic lands in Washington State, per the executive order of Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced on Friday.

Franz’s order will align Washington’s net pen salmon aquaculture policy with policies already in place in Alaska, California, and Oregon, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which Franz heads.

“As we’ve seen too clearly here in Washington, there is no way to safely farm finfish in open sea net pens without jeopardizing our struggling native salmon. Today, I’m announcing an end to the practice. We, as a state, are going to do better by our salmon, by our fishermen, and by our tribes,” Franz said.

“Commercial finfish farming is detrimental to salmon, orcas and marine habitat. I’m proud to stand with the rest of the west coast today by saying our waters are far too important to risk for fish farming profits.”

DNR will change its rules, policies, and procedures accordingly. The agency underscored that the order only applies to commercial net pen fin fish aquaculture, and does not apply to hatcheries that restorative or boost native stocks.

Commercial finfish farming has operated in marine net pens in Puget Sound for more than 40 years.

Last Monday, the DNR 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.

Cooke’s farms are the two remaining finfish net pen aquaculture facilities leases in Washington.

The agency acknowledged on Monday again that the blanket ban on finfish farming stems from the 2017 collapse of Cooke’s salmon pens.

DNR said 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.

In 2018, the Washington state Legislature phased out Atlantic salmon farming, and Cooke shifted operations at its remaining leaseholds to grow sterile steelhead trout.

Cooke said the non-renewal of its leases is not backed by scientific evidence from various bodies.

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