Court Recommends Halting Alaska’s Unsustainable Harvest to Protect Wild Chinook and Southern Resident Killer Whales

Yesterday, The federal court in Seattle issued a landmark decision. The outcome of this is still to be determined. But it likely means an end to Chinook harvest in Alaska. NOAA has been losing in court due to their lack of rigorous science behind their decisions. This lawsuit was brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy, one of the most effective environmental organizations in the Pacific Northwest. If you want to support their work, it’s a good time to donate.

More to come on this. 

December 16, 2022— In a massive international and coast-wide decision for wild Chinook and Southern Resident killer whale recovery, Seattle’s federal Court issued a landmark opinion on Tuesday that recommends terminating unsustainable commercial salmon harvest that has persisted for decades until new environmental reviews of those fisheries occur. Overfishing was found in a previous ruling to illegally harm the recovery of both endangered Southern Resident killer whales and wild Chinook salmon across the Pacific Northwest.


On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michelle Peterson issued a report and recommendation on Wild Fish Conservancy’s lawsuit, agreeing that halting the summer and winter seasons of the Southeast Alaska Chinook troll fishery is the most appropriate remedy. Simultaneously, the judge found the federal government’s inadequate biological opinion should be remanded back to NOAA in order for the agency to address violations of environmental law.


In August, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones issued a stunning summary judgment based on a previous report and recommendation by Magistrate Peterson confirming that NOAA violated the law by improperly relying on undeveloped and uncertain future mitigation to offset ongoing overfishing authorized by NOAA.


In their most recent analysis of this fishery’s impact on threatened and endangered species, NOAA admits that over the last decade and continuing today, Chinook harvest is occurring at levels that are unsustainable for the long-term survival and reproductive success of both threatened wild Chinook populations and endangered Southern Resident killer whales. The overharvest of the whales’ prey has been ongoing for decades.


“The benefits to wild Chinook and Southern Resident killer whale recovery from the Court’s action cannot be overstated,” says Emma Helverson, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “If adopted by the District Judge, this recommendation will result in the first scientifically-proven recovery action in the Pacific Northwest to immediately provide Chinook for starving killer whales. The decision will also recover and restore the larger and more diverse life histories of wild Chinook these whales evolved to eat, which are fundamental for rebuilding both populations.”


While these Chinook are harvested in Southeast Alaska marine waters and currently certified by major U.S. seafood certifiers as ‘sustainable wild caught Alaskan Chinook’, approximately 97% of all Chinook harvested in the Southeast Alaska troll fishery actually originate from rivers throughout British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Currently, these Chinook are harvested prematurely, before they can migrate back into southern waters where the Southern Resident killer whales encounter them. In 2021, the fishery of concern harvested approximately 150,000 Chinook, many of which were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
For the first time in decades, Magistrate Peterson’s recommendation to terminate this fishery would finally allow these Chinook to migrate back down the coast and pass through the Southern Resident killer whales’ key foraging areas. Similarly, this action would support the coastwide recovery of wild Chinook stocks by allowing far more wild Chinook to return and spawn in rivers in B.C., Washington, and Oregon.


“I want to emphasize that Alaskan fishers are not to blame for NOAA’s chronic mismanagement of this fishery, and we are sympathetic to the burden this decision may pose on Southeast Alaskan communities,” says Emma Helverson, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “However, it’s critical to also acknowledge that for decades this fishery has harvested majority non-Alaskan Chinook at unsustainable levels with cascading and coastwide consequences for fishing communities throughout British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington. In addition to the unparalleled benefits to killer whale and Chinook recovery, the Court’s decision will restore more control to communities over the recovery of their local Chinook salmon populations, particularly tribal people and First Nations.”


Southern Resident killer whales were listed as Endangered in 2005. Currently, there are only 73 individuals in the population, an alarming decrease from nearly 100 only 25-years ago. Reduced prey availability, specifically large and abundant Chinook, has been identified by killer whale experts and NOAA as the primary cause of their decline.


“With less fishing in Alaskan waters, more Chinook can return to spawn in their home rivers in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon,” said Dr. Deborah Giles, Science and Research Director at Wild Orca. “An increase in larger, mature fish is essential—not just for the whales— but for the survival of these imperiled Chinook populations, whose future also hangs in the balance. A recovery for Chinook benefits all fishers, whales, and humans alike.”


“Despite the clear evidence, for too long government agencies, certifiers, and the media have been unwilling to acknowledge and address the unsustainable salmon harvest management in this fishery and others that is harming the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whales and the wild Chinook they depend on,” says Helverson. “The Court’s finding is playing an important role in bringing science and policy closer together for the benefit of wild salmon, killer whales, and coastal communities.”


In the coming months, the Magistrate Judge’s report and recommendation and any objections from the defendants will be considered by the District Judge presiding over the case for a final ruling.
### 

Washington tribe tests its rights to commercial net pen fish farming | KNKX Public Radio

An executive order from a Washington state agency earlier this month aims to end commercial net pen fish farming in public waters. Cooke Aquaculture is being forced to shut down its operations, but it has a key partner in its fight to remain. The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is forging ahead with its net pen aquaculture plans, testing a carve-out clause in the order.
— Read on www.knkx.org/environment/2022-12-01/washington-tribe-tests-its-rights-to-commercial-net-pen-fish-farming

‘Momentous’: Feds advance demolition of 4 Klamath River dams – AP

More dams are slated for removal to save what’s left of the historic salmon runs. Decommissioning could mean that the method that they use could allow the dams to be reinstated if the runs go extinct. It can mean clearing around the dams to allow the river to free flow but leave the dams standing. As the story tells, this was driven by the local Tribes (with help from environmental organizations), who’s treaties the Federal Government ignored for over a century. For those of us who have seen this remarkably beautiful river, it is a joy to think it will be freed again. Now to continue the move to solar power, wind power and wave power to replace the dam’s energy output. That part of the coast has lots of sunshine and of course, wave action galore.

U.S. regulators approved a plan on Thursday to demolish four dams on a California river and open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat that would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world when it goes forward. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s unanimous vote on the lower Klamath River dams is the last major regulatory hurdle and the biggest milestone for a $500 million demolition proposal championed by Native American tribes and environmentalists for years. The project would free hundreds of miles of the river, which flows from Southern Oregon into Northern California. Gillian Flaccus reports. (Associated Press)

WA Dept of Natural Resources Cancels Leases for Remaining Net Pen Salmon Farms in Puget Sound

While many are glad to see this long-awaited decision, it is by no means the end of Cook Aquaculture and its efforts to farm fish here. But if they indeed do remove the Rich Passage net pen, it could be good news for the remaining salmon that run through Orchard Rocks off southern Bainbridge Island. Why? Because it has never been fully investigated as to whether this net pen was partially responsible for the collapse of the salmon run through the passage and Agate Pass. Given recent news that the Hood Canal Floating Bridge may be a significant cause of salmon collapse in Hood Canal, and the hunch by some old fishermen that stocks collapsed after the net pen in Rich Passage went in, anything is possible. Obviously, shoreline development in the area at that time also had a good deal to do with the salmon loss.

A reminder to all that Cooke still has a business agreement with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and the two are rearing Black Cod (Sablefish) in Port Angeles harbor. My guess is that Cooke will look for additional opportunities like this and will approach other tribes if they haven’t already. Still to come, is understanding how the recent unanimous Supreme Court ruling may affect this decision. Will Cooke and allies sue in court, based on their previous win? I don’t think this is as over as it seems, but for now, it’s a good decision, long overdue.


Official Press Release:

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has ended the remaining two finfish net pen aquaculture leases on Washington’s state-owned aquatic lands.

DNR officials informed Cooke Aquaculture Monday that the agency will not renew expired leases for the two remaining finfish net pen aquaculture facilities in Washington; in Rich Passage off Bainbridge Island and off Hope Island in Skagit Bay.

“Since the catastrophic Cypress Island net pen collapse in 2017, I have stood tall to defend the waters of Puget Sound,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “This effort began by terminating finfish net pen operations due to lease violations. Despite years of litigation – and a company that has fought us every step of the way – we are now able to deny lease renewals for the remaining net pen sites. Today, we are returning our waters to wild fish and natural habitat. Today, we are freeing Puget Sound of enclosed cages.”

“This is a critical step to support our waters, fishermen, tribes, and the native salmon that we are so ferociously fighting to save,” said Commissioner Franz.

DNR’s denial of Cooke Aquaculture’s request to re-lease the sites to continue finfish net pen aquaculture gives the company until December 14 to finish operations and begin removing its facilities and repairing any environmental damage.

The Hope Island lease expired in March and has been in month-to-month holdover status since. The Rich Passage lease expired in November.

Decision Draws Support

Salish tribes and conservation groups hailed the decision as a step toward protecting the habitat of struggling stocks of native salmon.

“We are very pleased that Commissioner Franz rejected Cooke Aquaculture’s lease application. Removal of the existing net pen will restore full access to the Tribe’s culturally important fishing area in northern Skagit Bay. Swinomish are the People of the Salmon, and fishing has been our way of life since time immemorial. Cooke’s net pens have interfered with the exercise of our treaty rights for far too long. We look forward to the day when the Hope Island net pen facility will be a distant memory,” said Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Steve Edwards.

“This decision is a joyous and historic victory for the recovery of wild fish, orcas, and the health of Puget Sound,” says Emma Helverson, Executive Director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “For years, the public has overwhelmingly called for an end to this dangerous industry in our public waters. Commissioner Franz’s response proves she is both accountable to the public and dedicated to protecting Puget Sound’s irreplaceable public heritage for current and future generations.”

“We say, ‘the table is set when the tide goes out.’ Seafoods have always been a staple of Samish diet and traditions,” said Tom Wooten, Samish Indian Nation Chairman. “By removing the Sound’s remaining net pens, our delicate ecosystem now gets a chance to replenish, repair and heal. We are grateful and lift our hands to the DNR’s partnership in helping protect the Salish Sea that tie us to our history and culture.”

Denials End Saga Started by 2017 Collapse

Cooke Aquaculture had previously leased four sites for net pen aquaculture from the Department of Natural Resources, recently growing steelhead trout in the net pens after years of using them to grow Atlantic salmon.

DNR’s letters denying an extension of Cooke’s leases lists several areas where the firm violated terms of the leases. DNR determined that allowing Cooke to continue operations posed risks of environmental harm to state-owned aquatic lands resulting from lack of adherence to lease provisions and increased costs to DNR associated with contract compliance, monitoring, and enforcement.

In August of 2017, a net pen at Cooke’s Cypress Island fish farm collapsed, releasing hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. As a result, DNR terminated that lease. Cooke was fined $332,000 and found negligent by the state Department of Ecology. The net pens were removed in 2018.

In December of 2017, DNR terminated Cooke’s Port Angeles lease due to Cooke operating in an unauthorized area and failing to maintain the facility in a safe condition. Cooke challenged that termination in the superior court and that litigation is still pending.

The Washington state Legislature in 2018 phased out Atlantic salmon farming, and the company since shifted operations at its remaining leaseholds in Rich Passage and Hope Island to grow sterile steelhead trout.

Future Net Pen Policy will be Announced Friday

Following the denials of these lease renewals, Commissioner Franz is reviewing policies for net pen salmon aquaculture throughout Washington’s state-owned aquatic lands, and will announce this decision at a press conference alongside partners and tribes at 11 a.m. Friday, November 18, on Bainbridge Island.

Seattle Times article (Behind paywall)

WA will not renew leases for Puget Sound fish farms, 5 years after spill | The Seattle Times

Judge: Sustainable Salmon Harvest isn’t Sustainable – Post Alley


King salmon that you might have eaten recently apparently might not be available much longer. I know when I saw them in the fish-market two weeks ago I wondered if whether it had been legal to catch it. I assume it had as our fish market is very good at making sure that the only buy a sustainably caught fish .But here’s the background on it.

Those sustainably harvested Chinook salmon seemingly legally caught by trollers off Southeast Alaska aren’t “sustainably harvested.” So ruled U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones, adding that the plan that has allowed them to be harvested there violates the federal Endangered Species and National Environmental Policy acts. On August 10, the federal judge granted Duvall-based Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) summary judgment against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), its parent Department of Commerce, various officials of both agencies, and the Alaska Trollers Association and the State of Alaska, which had intervened. Dan Chasen writes.

https://www.postalley.org/2022/08/31/judge-sustainable-salmon-harvest-isnt-sustainable/

New film about spring Chinook delves into history, culture and science in unique habitats – PSI

Worth a watch!


A new film, titled “The Lost Salmon,” opens with a video montage that takes us through some wondrous scenes: A wide aerial shot of California’s majestic Salmon River, moving to an underwater view of salmon swimming through the clear water and then to an action spectacle of wild salmon practically flying through the air to surmount a rushing cascades. Christopher Dunagan reports. (Puget Sound Institute) 

Returning home: The Elwha’s genetic legacy-Salish Sea Currents Magazine

Excellent series by long time Northwest journalist Christopher Dunagan

Following dam removal, migratory salmon have been free to swim into the upper Elwha River for the first time in 100 years. Their actual behaviors and reproductive success may well be driven by changes in their genetic makeup. Our seven-part series ‘Returning home’ examines how the fish are doing and whether the Elwha’s genetic legacy remains intact. 

Salish Sea Currents

Returning home: The Elwha’s genetic legacy | Encyclopedia of Puget Sound (eopugetsound.org)

Causeway removal meant big jump in juvenile salmon – AP

Good news from the work done by North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC) and the State.

Only six juvenile salmon were found during seining in the five years before the bridge opened. During this year’s seining, over two days in May, volunteers netted close to 1,000 juvenile salmon

https://www.knkx.org/environment/2022-06-06/causeway-removal-meant-big-jump-in-juvenile-salmon

The Hatchery Crutch: How We Got Here – Hakai Magazine

Hakai Magazine has published an excellent overview of the issue of hatchery salmon. Author Jude Isabella has dove deep into the history of hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest. This is part of a larger project called The Paradox of Salmon Hatcheries. The work is also available in audio format. I highly recommend this to anyone that thinks they know that hatcheries are a “good thing” The history just doesn’t support it.

From their beginnings in the late 19th century, salmon hatcheries have gone from cure to band-aid to crutch. Now, we can’t live without manufactured fish.

Pat Neal’s Alternative Universe of Salmon Restoration

An Alternative Universe (NASA)

The following letter (edited to 250 words) was sent to the PDN this morning.

It was dismaying to see the PDN give column space today to the opinions of Pat Neal and his alternative universe of salmon restoration. If I read it right, he offers nothing but criticism of what he calls “The Salmon Restoration Industry” and no actual concrete proposals other than “build and fund more hatcheries” as if this will somehow fix the slow extinction of salmon in our region. It’s so easy to ignore the decades of science, funding and citizen involvement that has brought us to this point of restoration, as well as ignoring the habitat destruction that all of us contributed to over the last 100 years. I guess it’s easy to stand on the river and pretend hatcheries will fix everything.

Virtually all scientists agree on an “All H” method of salmon restoration. This means addressing Habitat, Hydro (dams, rivers, lakes),Hatcheries and Harvest. Increase and restore habitat. Monitor and manage river flows, well densities, fix hydropower issues, or perhaps tear down dams. Increase hatchery size and type. And manage harvest to save runs. The current “salmon restoration industry” as Neal so derisively puts it, has been established *because* of the need to address all four of these issues. If it’s failing, maybe it’s from something other than ongoing support. Like needing even more funding which is substantial but nowhere near enough. Perhaps more enforcement of the regulations on the books. Well, the list of what could be done goes on and on. Easy to pick your favorite solution and say “if only”.

Hatcheries have been given far more importance in budgets over the last 10 years, including large increases proposed by the Governor in his 2019 and 2021 budgets at the behest of sports fishermen and tribes (2020/21 had cuts to everything due to the Pandemic). This despite mounting scientific evidence that hatcheries produce fish that compete for food with wild stock and reduce genetic diversity. Salmon for fishermen and not for whales or the ecosystem at large. Neal uses hatchery numbers from 1961 to supposedly show that these hatchery fish were the reasons we had such a huge amount of salmon in our waters. Given the survival rate of hatchery fish it seems absurd to draw a conclusion like that. It ignores that we had dramatically fewer people, a climate under some semblance of stability, and had yet to finish destroying virtually all old growth forests between here and Juneau. But the signs of impending doom were clear to those that wanted to look.

Neal’s use of the Dungeness River as an example is perfect. It is a perfect example of not understanding history. For my 2010 movie “Voices of the Strait” I interviewed fishermen who were on the Dungeness in the 40s, 50s and 60s and their stories all were the same: they understood but had no way to stop the unrestrained destruction of habitat that they witnessed, including the cutting of irrigation channels into the Dungeness during peak salmon return seasons, leaving millions of fish to die without spawning. They had no environmental vocabulary to describe it,as we do now. They just all said, “what a waste”.The diking of the Dungeness only helped to kill the river by accelerating the river flow and wiping out locations where the fish spawned. It was done for the benefit of farmers and homeowners, not salmon. The late Port Angeles angler Dick Goin actually documented the losses in his unpublished “Roll Call of the Lost” counts of the loss of fish on all our rivers. I have a copy if anyone is interested. He saw it in real time. The hatcheries Neal describes were created to *fix* that problem, and yet the science shows it’s not nearly enough and they are failing to produce significant results. For instance, we now know by scat analysis what Orcas actually eat and it’s not hatchery salmon but fish from the Fraser and Columbia.

Additionally, charter fishermen who I interviewed described to me in vivid detail that there were no limits on sports fishing up until the 1960s, despite their pleas to Fish & Wildlife to not waste the fish. The sports fishermen from Seattle would come out, catch 30 to 40 fish in a day and leave with a few in their coolers. The charter fishermen couldn’t hire enough kids to clean the fish so they would just throw them back in the Strait when the guys from the east side of the Sound left. They knew this was wrong but had no power to stop it and no storage for the fish. Limits on salmon were finally put in, too little too late. Now we are at place where shutting down the season appears as the only way to protect the runs from complete destruction.

Habitat restoration has been funded due to the efforts of the Tribes, the Counties, the Cities, the State, the Feds, sports and commercial fishermen and hundreds of other people who have *volunteered* their time to work on this. They sit in interminably long, boring meetings trying to come to consensus. They debate long lists of priorities. There is not the money for all of the priorities. The results of their work may take decades to show up in any significant numbers. It is like a giant puzzle with the pieces fitting together and finally, near the end, painting a bigger picture.

Pat ignores the history of international fishing fleets with gear so good they could laugh about who would catch the last fish, as one old timer who fished with them told me. Pat ignores our own logging for raw logs right here on the Peninsula to ship to Japan in the 70s & 80s, wiping out entire ecosystems of salmon runs for the quick profit of the few. He ignores that we clearcut over 90% of old growth forests until the Feds put an end to it due to documented losses of species, like salmon and birds. He ignores the enormous build out of suburbs & exurbs around Puget Sound most with little or no efforts back then to protect fish. I watched that happen myself, seeing subdivisions on the East side of Lake Washington build right down to the banks of streams and small lakes. Or ignoring 100 years of culverts put into roads for our benefit that cut off salmon from returning to spawn. And the armoring of shorelines around Puget Sound that is still going on. And of course ignoring a warming climate that could make all these efforts go for naught. All of it nibbling away at the habitat and the fish until there wasn’t enough left. And of course, there was the Boldt Decision, used for propaganda purposes to demonize the very people who have done the most to attempt the restoration. Love them or hate them, they haven’t sat idly by while the fish vanish. They are at the table, working to save them using the best available science today.

Will the efforts to restore runs succeed? We don’t know yet, but some runs on the Elwha are returning, just not yet the chinook in any numbers. As are some runs on Jimmy Come Lately Creek and others. It costs a lot of time, people and money to fix 100 years of destruction.

No one I’ve talked to or read in the last 20 years who is seriously working on this issue, other than Pat Neal, thinks simply making more hatchery fish is some kind of solution. Pat, you have a lot of passion, how about working to help solve the problems rather than ignore the scientists and anglers who have been in the trenches fighting to reverse this ? Your passion might be useful if you are willing to listen and learn.

Will Reviving B.C.s declining salmon stocks require a rethink of hatcheries? – The Narwhal

Someday the people unwilling to even consider the end of hatcheries will come around to the science that is more and more frequently showing it doesn’t help.


After 150 years of experimenting, it’s becoming clear that pumping more baby fish into the ocean may actually be making the problem worse. Ryan Stuart reports…Releasing more fish into the environment might seem like an easy solution to declining numbers. But in nature, this rarely works. 

The Narwhal

https://bityl.co/9NdB

Salmon Need Trees – Hakai Magazine

As a follow up to the last post, as if we needed a reminder. Another study questioning the wisdom of cutting forests for profit rather than habitat. A clearcut is not a forest. A second growth tree farm is not a forest. It’s a monoculture.

A new study stands as a striking reminder that logging watersheds has an outsized impact on salmon and trout. Led by Kyle Wilson at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, the study looked at the successes and failures of five species of salmonids in the Keogh River (called Giyuxw by the local Kwakiutl First Nation) on northern Vancouver Island. For steelhead trout, the salmonid Wilson and his colleagues had the most data for, the problems the fish faced in the BC river hit the population just as hard as the challenges they faced out at sea. Wilson suspects the same holds true for other species with similar life cycles. Nicola Jones reports. (Hakai Magazine)

Salmon Need Trees

Researches make surprising discovery while tracking Chinook.

A controversial finding in recent chinook research.

Researchers made a surprising discovery while tracking Chinook salmon in both the foraging areas of endangered southern resident orcas and the growing, healthy population of the northern resident orcas in B.C. In a study published last week in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, the researchers stated they expected to find the robust population of northern residents fat with fish, and the southern residents stuck with lean pickings. Instead, the team found four to six times the density of big Chinook in the area they tested in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, part of the southern residents’ core foraging area, compared with the area they sampled in the northern residents’ territory, in the Johnstone Strait. Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times)

https://bit.ly/3FWT9ka

Swinomish tribal members say steelhead net pens violate fishing rights, add their voice to state Supreme Court case – Seattle Times

This raises an interesting queastion. Since Cooke has created some joint partnerships with some other tribes in the area to produce black cod, it will be interesting to see if this lawsuit, if successful, could be used non tribal people to sue other tribes who are doing the same aquaculture. We’ll track this in the future to see how it plays out.


…The Swinomish Tribe has joined as a friend of the court in a lawsuit to block permits that allow steelhead farming in a commercial net pen just offshore near Hope Island. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case next week. In its brief filed in the case, Swinomish tribal leaders, elders and fishers say the pen is a deep cultural insult and violation of their treaty fishing rights. The pen’s anchor lines foul their nets, tangle crab pots and force tribal fishers to keep clear of a productive fishing area they reserved a right to in the Treaty of Point Elliott, tribal members stated in declarations. Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times)

Taking the Temperature of Salmon -Salish Sea Currents

Good overview of one of the most critical issues facing recovery of endangered salmon. Rising temperatures in streams.

In the Puget Sound region, elevated stream temperatures are believed to be one of the great downfalls for salmon, especially in areas where streamside vegetation has been removed by farming, forestry or development.

https://www.eopugetsound.org/magazine/taking-temperature-salmon

Cooke Aquaculture Secures Permit to Stock Risky Washington Fish Farm

From the Wild Fish Conservancy. Reproduced in it’s entirety.

Cooke Aquaculture Secures Permit to Stock Risky Washington Fish Farm
For Immediate Release, August 6, 2021


SEATTLE— Despite ongoing litigation and timing questions regarding the lease for the facility, the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife has granted fish farming giant Cooke Aquaculture a permit to stock its Hope Island
facility in-water net pens with steelhead.


A group of conservation groups challenged the initial permits for stocking steelhead in Cooke’s net-pens, and that
challenge will be heard by the Supreme Court of Washington in September. Fish farms can degrade water quality,
introduce disease to native fish populations and threaten imperiled animals like the Southern Resident orcas.
But the new permit, signed August 5 by the department, will allow for 365,000 steelhead to be transported and placed
in Cooke’s facility off Hope Island in south Puget Sound before the court’s decision.


“We feel blindsided by this fast-moving process, which could cause major environmental damage,” said Sophia
Ressler, Washington wildlife attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The stocking of this facility has the
potential to contaminate our waters and threaten the species that are so dear to our Puget Sound ecosystem.”
The lease for the facility expires in March 2022. Based on Cooke’s own timeline, this is long before the rearing of the
365,000 steelhead at this facility would be complete. Without a valid lease for this farm beyond that deadline, Cooke
would be required to remove these fish and relocate them.

“Right now, Washington’s highest court is deciding whether Cooke Aquaculture’s new project should have ever been
approved. Before the end of the year, the court could invalidate every permit granted to Cooke and require the
comprehensive environmental review demanded by Tribal Nations, elected officials and thousands of members of the
public,” said Kurt Beardslee of Wild Fish Conservancy. “This decision to approve the transport of fish into Puget
Sound net pens while the court’s decision is pending is fundamentally reckless and further demonstrates an alarming
pattern of state agencies putting the wishes of a billion-dollar industry ahead of wild salmon recovery, tribal treaty
rights and the public’s best interest.”

“The state failed the public and our imperiled wild fish when it granted these permits and allowing stocking to go
forward while our case is pending at the Washington Supreme Court is the epitome of irresponsible,” said Amy van
Saun, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety. “Industrial fish farming is not in the public interest.”
“We are dismayed to see the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife again greenlighting Cooke’s plans to
industrially farm steelhead in Puget Sound,” said Hallie Templeton, senior oceans campaigner and deputy legal
director at Friends of the Earth. “That this permit has been issued before oral arguments in our appeal over the
agency’s aquaculture permit is a slap in the face to all Washingtonians and the wildlife who depend on a clean and safe
Puget Sound.”

Background

Following a catastrophic failure at one of Cooke’s facilities in 2017, Washington state passed a law phasing out all
Atlantic salmon net-pen aquaculture by 2022. The permits issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife allow Cooke
to continue operating its net pens, which are placed directly into Puget Sound waters, by growing steelhead instead of
Atlantic salmon.

During a public comment period in fall 2019, thousands of Washington citizens and organizations filed comments
with the state agency, overwhelmingly calling for the proposal to be stopped and urging the state to draft a new
“environmental impact statement” on open-water aquaculture net pens.
Instead the state wildlife department issued a permit that relied on a cursory analysis and “mitigated determination of
non significance.” The calls for deeper scrutiny came from environmental advocates, commercial fishers and anglers,
legislators, other state agencies and at least five tribal governments from the lands around Puget Sound.
Washington is the only state on the Pacific coast that permits these facilities. At the beginning of 2020, Canadian
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans to transition all open-water industrial aquaculture in British Columbia
to land-based facilities by 2025.

The conservation groups that brought this challenge are represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC and by
attorneys at the Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity.
Additional Information:
• Open Brief (filed 2-11-20)
• More Information on the Lawsuit (press release 11-23-20)
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org Wild Fish Conservancy is a nonprofit conservation ecology organization headquartered in Washington State and dedicated to preserving, protecting and restoring the northwest’s wild fish and the ecosystems they depend on, through science, education and advocacy. For more information: http://www.wildfishconservancy.org
Center for Food Safety’s mission is to empower people, support farmers, and protect the earth from the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture, including aquaculture. Through groundbreaking legal, scientific, and grassroots action, we protect and promote your right to safe food and a healthy, resilient environment.
Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, ensuring the food we eat and products we use are safe and sustainable, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who
live and work near them

Lawsuit launched over stalled habitat protection for endangered west coast orcas

It’s about time, the Trump administration has been stalling long enough.


The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government today [12/16] for its failure to finalize expanded habitat protections for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales, whose population has dipped to just 74 orcas. The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed designating 15,627 square miles of new critical habitat in September 2019. The rule would expand current protections in Washington’s Salish Sea south along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California to Point Sur. The proposed rule followed an April 2019 court-ordered agreement after the Center sued the Trump administration in 2018 for failing to issue habitat protections required by the Endangered Species Act. The Act requires agencies to finalize proposed rules within one year. Today’s notice letter gives the Fisheries Service 60 days to comply. (Center for Biological Diversity News Release)

Lawsuit Launched Over Stalled Habitat Protection for Endangered West Coast Orcas

Millions have been spent on orca recovery: Is it working? – Everett Herald


And a follow up to the previous story, this is a good layman’s overview of the issue of salmon and orca recovery. It focus’ on Snohomish County but also discusses Sound wide issues. Notice, no mention of hatcheries here. It’s about habitat recovery. This article appears to have come out from under the paywall at this point.

Restoring destroyed salmon habitat is the key to regaining Southern Resident killer whale numbers. Julia-Grace Sanders reports. (Everett Herald)

Everett Herald

Millions have been spent on orca recovery: Is it working?

Controversy flares up over proposed policy revisions for state salmon hatcheries -PSI

This is a never ending story, because neither the Tribes, the sports & commercial fisheries, nor the politicians of any stripe are willing to entertain what is needed, which is an elimination of most hatcheries. Why? Because science has proven they don’t work. We have had hatcheries since at least the 1940s and they have not helped produce more wild salmon, nor added significantly to anything but sports fishing and farmed at a huge cost to taxpayers. (The exception to this is to protect almost extinct runs for tribal subsistence which is a valid concern for cultural survival of our Tribes. )We once had monstrous runs of wild (and free) fish for anyone to eat that would simply go out and catch them. They provided for lower income people in times of need. We have squandered that resource for many reasons, and have infected many of them with virus’ transmitted through farmed fish. We have spent vast resources trying to produce significant runs in hatcheries. None of this has worked. The science says to end hatcheries, but the political football of this issue just won’t let it go away. The future looks like we will lose our wild salmon in favor of robo-fish, farmed and produced simply for human and animal consumption. We do this at our peril. Just look at what one virus, picine reovirus (https://raincoastresearch.org/salmon-farm-impacts/viruses/piscine-reovirus/) has done to farmed fish stocks around the world.

So with that preamble, here’s today’s story>

A state policy revision that could boost salmon production at fish hatcheries in Washington state has raised red flags among scientists and environmental groups worried about potential damage to wild salmon runs.


The proposed hatchery policy, under review by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, could derail a 20-year effort to implement critical hatchery reforms, opponents argue. Major concerns revolve around threats to the future of wild salmon populations — including declines in genetic diversity and increasing competition from large numbers of hatchery fish. At the same time, a variety of sport and commercial fishing groups have thrown their support to increased hatchery production, saying that policies to protect wild salmon have reduced fishing opportunities while doing little to save wild salmon. Christopher Dunagan writes. (Puget Sound Institute)

Controversy flares up over proposed policy revisions for state salmon hatcheries

Minor bridge modifications could help young steelhead escape from Hood Canal – PSI

As this blog has reported for many years, the Hood Canal Floating bridge is a barrier likely the primary issue responsible for the massive decline in salmon in the Canal. An unintended consequence of our putting a floating bridge in rather than one that would be a suspension bridge. Chris Dunagan brings us up to speed on the latest work by engineers to address this mistake.


Help could be on the way for migrating steelhead and salmon in Hood Canal, where many young fish are killed each year by seals and other predators that lie in wait at the Hood Canal floating bridge. As many as 50 percent of the steelhead migrants perish as they arrive at the bridge, where predators pick them off one by one. The bridge is supported by floating concrete pontoons, forming a nearly solid barrier across the waterway. Young steelhead generally swim near the surface, making them especially vulnerable to predation, although some fish will dive under the bridge to get to the other side. Engineers are currently designing minor modifications to a few bridge pontoons to help the fish find their way through existing gaps in the structure. Chris Dunagan reports. (Puget Sound Institute)

Minor bridge modifications could help young steelhead escape from Hood Canal

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