Cooke Aquaculture pays 2.75 Million dollar fine for net pen collapse

The company responsible for the net pen collapse that released large numbers of Atlantic Salmon into Puget Sound has settled out of court in advance of a Monday court date.

Cooke Aquaculture has reached a settlement to pay $2.75 million in legal fees and to fund Puget Sound restoration projects, putting an end to a Clean Water Act lawsuit that followed the 2017 collapse of one of the fish-farming company’s net-pen structures. – Seattle Times. Read the full article here and consider subscribing to the Times and keeping local reporters working.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/cooke-aquaculture-settles-lawsuit-with-wild-fish-advocates-over-net-pen-collapse/

These funds will go to help pay legal expenses, and the rest of the funds will go to the Rose Foundation to fund environmental projects to protect wild salmon and killer whales in Puget Sound, as well as WFC’s litigation expenses. Cooke also agreed to change their practices and address additional dangers identified in the course of the lawsuit, according to Wild Fish Conservancy, who brought the lawsuit.

“This is truly a victory for the future of our sound,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Open water net pen aquaculture is a risky business, and thanks to this settlement we are one step closer to getting this dirty industry out of Puget Sound once and for all. This was long in coming. Last year, the public demanded an end to Atlantic salmon net pens. Just last week, thousands of people spoke out against switching these farms to different species. Now a federal judge ruled that Cooke broke the law. It’s time for this industry to leave Puget Sound.”

Cooke’s operations continue to put wild salmon and the health of Puget Sound at risk. Just weeks ago, one of the Bainbridge Island net pens began sinking due to a hole in a flotation pontoon; luckily, the damaged portion was not stocked with Atlantic salmon at the time but may have resulted in an escape were the pens occupied. Marine engineer Tobias Dewhurst, an independent expert testifying on behalf of Wild Fish Conservancy, reviewed conditions at each farm site and determined “conditions at each of its eight sites exceeded the maximum rated conditions specified by the net pen manufacturer,” and that as a result “pens and cages operated by Cooke were at risk of failure.” Even given subsequent changes, Dewhurst concluded, “certain remaining sites appear to be operating in conditions that exceed those specified by the net pen system manufacturers,” and therefore “may be at risk of partial or catastrophic failure.”

http://www.wildfishconservancy.org/cooke-aquaculture-to-pay-2.75-million-ending-wfc-lawsuit-over-net-pen-collapse-1

Recently, Cooke has partnered with the Jamestown S’Klallam to reopen the net pens in Port Angeles to raise native, but genetically modified steelhead. While the danger of these fish escaping and somehow altering native stocks is dramatically lessened, there is still the issue raised by Wild Fish Conservancy, of destruction of the environment in and around the feeding pens, along with possible affects of raising large quantities of fish in a small enclose. Virus and parasites are traditionally the concern, yet the Tribe has claimed that they are working on mitigation techniques. The Tribe has been researching raising these steelhead at the NOAA research facility at Manchester for the last few years. Their goal is to do this as environmentally responsibly as possible giving current scientific best practices. Many in the environmental community remain unconvinced that this won’t become another problem.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has issued a mitigated determination of non-significance, which allowed only  a 21-day comment period. This requires neither a full environmental assessment nor environmental impact statement under the State Environmental Policy Act. Such an assessment would have considered the risks of diseases, pollution, further escapes and collapses, and the potential harm to federally-listed native steelhead. Kurt Beardsley of Wild Fish Conservancy said of the lack of EIS, “The 2017 collapse revealed that these pens are dramatically under-built for conditions in Puget Sound, and that Cooke’s recovery plan in the event of escapes was woefully inadequate. More escapes would directly threaten our wild salmon, steelhead trout, and endangered killer whales. Without a full EIS, the state cannot address the evidence from their investigations and WFC’s.

The Tribe at least brings a local group that has a a track record of being  concerned with long term viability of the resource, and is not going to be moving operations like many international corporations do.

Just to the north, on the Canadian Coast, a long running battle over farmed fish has pitted environmental scientist and activist Alexandra Morton against the fish farming industry. She has been working with the local tribes in documenting a horribly destructive virus that has appeared from Norway in both the local wild fish and the farm raised fish.

While Washington state passed legislation banning PRV-infected farm salmon, it is still an unknown as to whether the virus is affecting the ever decreasing numbers of wild chinook that are the primary food of the resident orcas. Reopening net pens here could provide a vector for fish carrying the disease that could be passing through the infected waters to the north on their way here.

(more on this story at The Georgia Straight News)

In October, Cooke paid another large fine in Maine for multiple violations of their laws for fish farming.  https://www.seafoodsource.com/news/aquaculture/cooke-to-pay-fine-for-overstocking-maine-salmon-farms-not-conducting-environmental-testing

In April, Cooke paid over $300,000 for water quality violations here in Washington.

Skagit River Chum Numbers Continue to Decline – Skagit Valley Herald

Reports from the Department of Fish and Wildlife show a continued dramatic drop in Skagit River chum. As stated in the article, these are new lows since monitoring began on the river in the 1960s.

The debate has been raised for the last number of years as to whether the hatchery runs are worth doing. Research comparing the Skagit with Oregon’s similar river, the Rogue, which runs about the same amount of distance and has a similar ecosystem shows that the major difference in why the Rogue runs are so much higher than the Skagit’s are the implantation of hatchery fish. The Rogue has not had hatchery fish implanted in it, and the argument goes, that the fish are better adapted to changing conditions. Needless to say, that has not gone over well with hatchery supporters, including Tribes and sports fishermen. Whether the hatchery program is the problem or the solution will never be tried here because at hearings the Tribes and sports fishermen went to great lengths to denounce the idea without offering any scientific support for their position. And now, the Governor is going to go full speed ahead on funding hatcheries. Meanwhile, the fish keep vanishing. The numbers in the article show the fishery is in complete collapse. And no recreational fishing has been allowed since 2008. I guess we are going to keep doing what doesn’t work until the fish are gone. Isn’t that the definition of madness?

https://www.goskagit.com/news/local_news/skagit-river-chum-returns-continue-to-decline/article_b94adf5b-aeee-5beb-b5ef-60f9a410ab03.html

New Genetic Research Shows the Legacy of Fish Farm – Hakai Magazine

The fish farming industry has been saying for the last number of years that this couldn’t happen. Well, it apparently has. While this could not happen here because of the distinct species, it does add fuel to the fire that these farmed fish are just not a good idea. We have no idea what additional information the industry, along with certain departments in WDFW and NOAA who seem to be simply mouthpieces for the industry, are not investigating, or actually hiding from the public.

Newfoundland’s great fish jailbreak took place on September 18, 2013, when a damaged sea pen, roiled by currents and tides, discharged 20,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into the frigid freedom of Hermitage Bay. Cooke Aquaculture, which owned the failed pen, swiftly set about controlling the damage in the media, if not the ocean. Seals and other predators would scarf up the rogue salmon, the company assured the CBC. The fish, it added, “pose[d] no threat to the environment.” A new genetic analysis, however, refutes that dubious claim. Researchers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) have shown that the fish fled Hermitage Bay, fanning out and infiltrating many of southern Newfoundland’s rivers. There, the escapees interbred with their wild cousins—potentially weakening the gene pools of imperiled populations. Ben Goldfarb reports. (Hakai Magazine)

New Genetic Research Shows the Legacy of Fish Farm

 

 

 

Spring Chinook return to the Skokomish River to start a new salmon run – Watching our Waterways

Good early results from a new hatchery on the Skokomish river. The survival rates of hatchery raised fish have been questioned by groups like Long Live the Kings, in long running surveys comparing the success of wild fish in the Rogue River in Oregon vs. the Skagit River hatchery raised fish. But it’s still one of the only options left as we destroy our climate with fossil fuel use and the long term effects of a variety of human caused problems. We certainly wish them luck!

For the first time in decades, an early run of Chinook salmon has returned to the Skokomish River in southern Hood Canal.

Read the whole story here;

https://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways/2018/07/27/spring-chinook-return-to-the-skokomish-river-to-start-a-new-salmon-run/

 

WDFW Commission advises state fishery managers on chinook plan – WA Fish & Wildlife Commission

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission advised state fishery managers to strike a better balance between conservation and harvest opportunities as they work with tribal co-managers to revise a proposed plan for managing chinook harvest in Puget Sound. During a conference call Tuesday, the commission – a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – instructed state fishery managers to explore a variety of options as they revisit catch rates and other pieces of the updated Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan…. “Ultimately, we would all like to see salmon runs restored in Puget Sound, but severely restricting fisheries isn’t the only path to achieving that goal,” said Brad Smith, chair of the commission. “For that reason, we advised WDFW staff to explore other salmon recovery options, including improvements to habitat and hatchery operations.” (WA Fish & Wildlife Commission)

http://www.sanjuanjournal.com/news/wdfw-commission-advises-state-fishery-managers-on-chinook-plan/

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.

Industry makes pitch to keep net pens – Spokesman Review

Just as I thought. There appears to be significant backpedaling on wanting to do anything without more “study”. There are only 80 jobs at risk here by banning this outrageously bad industry. One thing they never have studied, is the effect of the antibiotics and other chemicals that they pour into pens and get swept out to sea. NOAA has only looked at the effects to bottom seabeds within 200 ft.

OLYMPIA – Aquaculture companies that raise Atlantic salmon in the Puget Sound made an impassioned plea Thursday to keep their net pens and the jobs they support in Washington waters.

Read the rest of the story at http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/jan/18/industry-makes-pitch-to-keep-net-pens/

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