Large crowd hears lawmakers discuss Atlantic Salmon ban plans


A packed house greeted State Senator Kevin Van de Wege and State House representative Mike Chapman in Sequim last night as they updated the community on the current bills to ban non-native Atlantic salmon and possibly put strict limits on net pens in our waters.

Senator Van de Wege along with Senator Ranker and others are supporting Senate Bill 6086, which would essentially immediately move to ban Atlantic salmon and implement retraining of displaced workers, thought to number approx 80 statewide. The bill would also look at waste discharges into our waters, with an eye on possibly severely curtailing use of in-water net pens, which are used only currently for Atlantic salmon but are being eyed by NW Tribes, such as the Jamestown S’Klallam for possible black cod and steelhead rearing. Jamestown tribal council member and policy manager for the tribes natural resources department Kurt Grinnell was present but did not speak, however a recent editorial he penned expressed support for the ban on non-native fish. Senator Van de Wege shared an email, signed by essentially every tribal leader in Puget Sound, supporting the ban. The bill has moved out of committee and appears to be the most likely to reach a Senate vote.

Representative Chapman has co-authored a bill (HB2418 http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2017-18/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/2418.pdf) with widespread support in the House, which calls for more study before an outright ban. This was clearly unpopular with many of the attendees. Representative Chapman stressed that he thought the Senate bill would be the most likely bill to be passed. Both legislators also told the crowd that more negotiation was forthcoming, and neither could say at this point what the final wording might include.

A Republican written house bill, HB 2260, http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2017-18/Pdf/Bills/House%20Bills/2260.pdf, is also in play, but has no real support by Democrats. It simply calls for a ban on Atlantic Salmon.

Members of the polite audience that spoke included many supporting the ban, and a few calling for more study. The manager of the Cooke net pen facility in Port Angeles spoke, saying that they had done a great job there, but giving data on salmon farming that to a number of attendees seemed hard to believe. Representative Chapman said that while Cooke’s previous company Icicle Seafoods had seemed trustworthy, since the purchase of Icicle by Cooke he had seen little interest in engagement or communication by their international headquarters.

There was concern expressed by some of the speakers over a lack of more rigorously limiting or outright banning of open water net pens, missing in all the bills. New technology from companies such as Atlantic Sapphire out of Miami, Florida makes it economically feasible to raise farmed fish upland, with little waste water outflow and much less reliance on antibiotics. Current state and federal laws exempt net pens from clean water laws, and there are appear to be no studies done on the ongoing release of antibiotics into our waters by these farms.

Other speakers raised concerns of handing over rewriting rules and studies to the very agencies that have stonewalled critics of net pen aquaculture over the last decade. Jefferson County, which wrote in a ban on net pens to their Shoreline Master Program (SMP) was stopped from implementing the ban by the Department of Ecology, who threatened to rewrite the SMP themselves if the county did not remove the ban. Oddly, DOE did allow one other county to implement a ban, then they publicly apologized for doing so. While County Commissioners and environmental activists brought a plethora of more recent studies, showing negative impacts to the environment, Ecology ignored the science and continued to support old science by NOAA that only looked at the issue of degradation to the bottom within a 200ft circle around the pens. NOAA never apparently has looked into the issue of antibiotic escape into the wider environment.

In 2007, Kurt Beardslee of the Wild Fish Conservancy testified before Ecology that Dr. Whitely of the University of Washington (Professor Emeritus, Zoology), had looked at the issue of total suspended solids as early as 1997, and had determined that four of the twelve salmon netpens in Washington State discharged 93 percent of the “total suspended solids” into Puget Sound as the treatment sewage plant serving the city of Seattle. Ecology ignored the science then. Mr. Beardslee went on to testify that other scientific studies (Goldberg 2001 and Hardy (2001)) equated the waste from a net pen salmon farm of 200,000 fish to the sewage output of 20,000, 25,000, or 65000 humans, depending on the parameter nitrogen, phosphorus or fecal matter, respectively.

Representative Chapman praised the rapid response of newly elected Department of Natural Resources chief Hilary Franz in placing a moratorium on net pens immediately following the failure of the pens in Northern Puget Sound last year. We also support Ms. Franz efforts.

While there is a need to carve out exemptions for some limited net pens by tribes in the area, there are great concerns that the technology of net pens is at odds with the goals of clean water and wild fish. A ban while a deep review of the science that’s been ignored over the last decade is welcome and probably needed to get passage of the current bills. However, we urge the tribes to work as swiftly as possible over the next few years to evaluate and explore upland tank technology, to achieve goals of restoration of native fish populations and marketing of fish to the public.

It seems that nothing ever gets done until a crisis occurs, and now we have had our net pen crisis. Many voices have been warning our government about the risks of putting these non-native fish into the Sound. While the industry tends to downplay the likelihood of Atlantic salmon ever threatening our native stocks, given the lack of real scientific study on the issue of antibiotic use and other chemical releases into the wider Sound, extreme caution is now warranted. Evolution teaches us that genetic changes due to environmental pressures need only a few members of a population to experience rapid adaptation to survive. We cannot be sure that escaped Atlantic salmon may not create just a change. But we don’t need to wait for that to happen. The crisis has happened, the momentum to end this mistake in judgement is large, now let’s get it done. Ban non-native fish immediately and seriously contemplate supporting a move to upland facilities by offering some kind of experimental support funding and fast tracking, as Senator Van de Wege did in the last decade with the building of experimental hog fuel facilities in Port Angeles and elsewhere.

2 Responses

  1. with the new uprising of gun control when we are already over loaded with gun laws. No one ever mentions school safety. How about keeping these shooters out of the schools. How about school security, camera monitoring and surveillance systems. As it is now anyone can walk in to any school at any hour during the day. This is the big problem!!!!

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