Return of the Fish Farming Zombies

Though a stake was driven through the heart of the Cooke Aquaculture zombie a few years ago (with the help of the same tribe that now is in a joint venture with them!) they have returned and managed to get the State Supreme Court to side with them, with the help of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (who neglected to properly monitor their pens that collapsed) allowing them to open for business again in the Port Angeles harbor and over near Cyprus Island. (and I would assume elsewhere).

From the Skagit Valley Herald:
The state Supreme Court published a unanimous decision by its nine judges Thursday to uphold the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s approval of steelhead farming in Puget Sound. The environment groups Wild Fish Conservancy, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and Friends of the Earth have been fighting the state’s decision to allow steelhead farming since early 2020. At issue is the plan of international seafood company Cooke Aquaculture to switch from raising nonnative Atlantic salmon at net pens in the region to raising native steelhead trout at the facilities. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

But… let’s look at the details, that the wider press did not address. Here is the summary from the State Supreme Court website.

The Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) challenged the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) approval of a permit that allowed Cooke Aquaculture Pacific LLC to change fish species to commercially farm steelhead trout in Puget Sound. The WFC alleged: (1) WDFW’s conclusion that an environmental impact statement (EIS) was not required was clearly erroneous; and (2) WDFW violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by failing to consider and disclose appropriate alternatives to the proposal under RCW 43.21C.030(2)(e). The WFC asked the Washington Supreme Court to reverse the permit approval and order WDFW to complete an EIS. The superior court found WDFW’s SEPA analysis was not clearly erroneous and the steelhead permit application did not trigger RCW 43.21C.030(2)(e). Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed.

What the courts have confirmed were:

  • The EIS not being required was a correct decision.
    • This just means that the EIS was not required for reestablishing a fish farm. I personally disagree with this part of the ruling, but it does not seem to say that if you start a new fish farm, that you do not have to do an EIS.
  • That WDFW did not violate the SEPA.
    • That part was open to interpretation, clearly.

There are still places to fight Cooke, at the local and county levels. But given that farming steelhead is a net new industry, I can see some possible openings moving forward. Any notion that the lack of proper monitoring of the failed pens by WDFW would lead to greater oversite by them seems to have gone out the window with this decision. They weren’t even willing to demand an EIS… It’s ironic, that given the battle that Tribes have made for eating wild salmon, that Jamestown S’Klallam and others are willing to back fish farming locally. What do you make of that?

Bottom line, we cannot trust the Dept of Fish and Wildlife, nor some Tribes, to protect us from commercialization of the Sound for profit. if you don’t like the notion of eating farmed fish, with their feedlot like use of mass feeding and the impact to the bottom by having tens of thousands of fish congregated together, then boycott eating them and demand that your local fish markets do too. The impact to the wider community of wildlife in the Salish Sea will need to be seen as they reopen these destructive fish pens.

By the way, if you want to know how bad it can get here, just look at Chile. They are in the process of reviewing and possibly moving hundreds of salmon farms that have been allowed to proliferate off their coasts. The 270 applications are in addition to the hundreds that already exist. This was helped by the election of a young socialist candidate that has said he is going to help the indigenous people regain their ocean.

According to the presentation, made in the senate by Subpesca Head of the Aquaculture Division Eugenio Zamorano, Subpesca estimates that some 500 salmon concessions should be relocated, out of a total of 1,320 that the industry operates, with plans to merge some farming centers. (emphasis is mine)

Are we going to end up with hundreds of farms all over the Sound? It’s up to you.

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