On November 14th, Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources announced that it would be terminating the two remaining open net pen aquaculture operations in its state waters. Both of these Puget Sound operations–in Rich Passage off Bainbridge Island and off Hope Island in Skagit Bay–are owned by the embattled Cooke Aquaculture. In the Pacific Northwest, open-net pen finish aquaculture is riddled with controversy and is wildly unpopular among fishing communities.

What’s the gripe with aquaculture:

  • You may recall Cooke’s 2017 open-net pen failure which allowed hundreds of thousands of farmed, non-native Atlantic salmon to escape into puget sound.
  • This event, and Cooke’s subsequent uncooperativeness, was the driving force for DNR’s rejecting Cooke’s permits, and fueled a 2018 decision by the WA Legislature to end Atlantic salmon farming.
  • These farms create an immense amount of pollution, waste, and can spread diseases and parasites to wild fish stocks–many of which are struggling and well below target levels.
  • Open-net pen finish aquaculture in marine environments carries substantial risks, and accidents can lead to environmental disasters.

“The importance of this decision for wild fish, water quality, and the greater health of Puget Sound cannot be overstated,” wrote Wild Fish Conservancy Executive Director Emma Helverson. “Immediately, this action will cease the chronic untreated pollution that has been discharged every single day by this industry over the past thirty years. Finally, these heavily polluted and degraded sites will have the opportunity to heal and begin the process of natural restoration as part of the largest passive restoration project in Washington’s history.”

Cover picture provided by Washington Department of Ecology and shows Cooke’s Rich Passage operation.

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