WDFW Permits Cooke’s New Industrial Net Pen Proposal

As  expected, our state Department of Fish and Wildlife have approved the permits that will allow Cooke Aquaculture to transition their surviving net pens from banned Atlantic salmon to a biologically-altered form of steelhead/rainbow trout. You can read the lame justification here.

But what did we expect? It was clear when the Jamestown S’Klallam decided to test the waters for pen raising steelhead that we were headed this way. With the lack of appetite for any NGO in the northwest to challenge even the smallest issue of a tribal council, what did we expect? That there is a fundamental issue with pen raising hundreds of thousands of fish in a small area in our state waters, creating a disease vector and destruction of the environment in and around the pens, seems not to matter to the tribes, nor WDFW executives.

It was clear to me, when the Jamestown came to the meeting in Sequim a few years ago, as we debated the issue of shutting down net pens and Atlantic salmon here, that when the Jamestown aquaculture manager got up and said, “we support stopping the raising of Atlantic salmon but don’t support ending net pens” that something was being said about what was to come.  Some of us were aware that they were already raising steelhead and black cod in Manchester. It was no secret. I don’t blame them. They are doing the best that they can to create economic well being for their Tribe. But at what cost to our waters and shorelines? Who is asking that question? Apparently not many

What is happening is not the fault of the Tribes. WDFW and NOAA have stated and supported the notion that they want to see every square inch of Puget Sound that can be turned into a commercial aquaculture operation happen. This has long predated the Trump era. Our natural shorelines are being leased away by DNR, supported by the Governor now and every Governor for decades, Democrat or Republican. Without so much as a debate, ever since 2000 and another Democratic Governor (Christine Gregoire) whom so many environmentalists loved, decided that we were going to do a “shellfish initiative”, without any serious discussion of what this meant. Our local state politicians are funded by the aquaculture industry and the industry has successfully taken over the Marine Resource Committees of the Peninsula, our last possible place to stop them. So now we inherit the wind.

We continue to allow this, commercial tribal aquaculture in our national wildlife reserve against the wishes of the scientists working there, the wrapping of the blanket of ‘environmental protection’ around every commercial operation that wants to exploit the shorelines.  The large number of NGOs that meekly go along because it’s all an industry now. No one really wants to stand up to this, it’s clear. So why should we think that WDFW should be criticized for simply carrying out the wishes of our politicians in Olympia and here locally. Why should we care? Who other than Kurt and a handful of people who really fight for this and are denounced even in the environmental community as ‘outsiders’ really care? Don’t give me your crocodile tears. Give my your support. Your money.  Show me what you really believe, if you really believe in the environment at all. Frankly, from what I’ve seen, most people don’t. It’s not about a minor recovery effort here or there. It’s about stopping the destruction before it happens. Recovery efforts are wonderful. I support all of them. But this is about stopping the destruction before it happens. Who really does that anymore? It’s all about money.  Remember that when they come asking for money in this election year. Maybe give the money to the Wild Fish Conservancy and tell your politicians you are because of their gutless support for the exploitation of our shores.

Kurt Beardsley, the executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy gave us this overview.

Wild Fish Enthusiasts,
I am deeply disappointed to report that earlier today, Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced they have approved permits that will allow Cooke Aquaculture to transition their surviving net pens from banned Atlantic salmon to a biologically-altered form of steelhead/rainbow trout. 

This decision came in spite of the thousands of public comments from environmental organizations, tribes, elected officials, and the public, overwhelmingly opposing the plan and urging the agency to conduct an environmental impact statement, a comprehensive review of the potential impacts to wild steelhead, salmon, Southern Residents, and the overall health of Puget Sound.

Without a complete understanding or acknowledgement of those risks, the agency has once again placed their trust in Cooke Aquaculture— the same company that recently paid $2.75 million for violations of the Clean Water Act in Puget Sound— and the burden of proof on the threatened and endangered species the public has invested millions to protect.

This news is especially disappointing given the recent announcement by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, committing to transition all open water net pens from B.C. waters to land-based facilities by 2025. As of WDFW’s announcement today, Washington represents the only state or jurisdiction on the entire Pacific Coast allowing this dangerous practice to continue and expand.

Let me assure you, this reckless decision will not go unchallenged— politically, legally, or scientifically. Already, the agency’s action is being protested by the public, environmental groups, and tribal leaders throughout the northwest, as seen in today’s Seattle Times’ article.

In the weeks and months to come, Wild Fish Conservancy is committed to doing whatever it takes to challenge this decision, guiding the public under the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign and bringing forward the scientific evidence necessary to end industrial open water net pen aquaculture in Washington once and for all.


Kurt Beardslee
Executive Director
Wild Fish Conservancy

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