State Senate votes to ban net pens

Raising invasive salmon in Washington state waters is one step closer to being permanently banned.

The Washington state Senate passed legislation prohibiting commercial net pens used for farming Atlantic salmon on Thursday, Feb. 8.

“In the months since the escape of hundreds of thousands of invasive Atlantic salmon from the net pen failure, we have learned the extent of the mismanagement and negligence of Cooke Aquaculture,” Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, said in a statement. “This sort of careless behavior is unacceptable for any company in Washington state. The state ban is a strong stance to ensure the protection of our marine environment and native salmon populations in the Salish Sea.”

Ranker, backed by 14 fellow Senators, introduced SB 6086 on Jan. 5. The bill passed 35-12 and is now at the House of Representatives for consideration with public hearing on Feb. 15. If approved, existing net pen leases would be valid until their termination by 2025.

“It is no longer acceptable for the people of the state of Washington to expose our waters to the threats posed by non-native Atlantic salmon in net pens,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a press release before the vote. “We need to transition and phase out the leases that now exist because this is a risk that is intolerable and unacceptable.”

On Aug. 19, 2017, Cooke Aquaculture’s 30-year-old net pen holding approximately 305,000 Atlantic salmon off the shore of Cypress Island collapsed.

On Jan. 30, the Department of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources released a 120-page report on the net pen failure. The investigation concluded that between 243,000 and 263,000 fish escaped during the failure. They still cannot account for 186,000 to 206,000 of the salmon. Introducing an invasive species into the wild can negatively impact native species’ ability to prosper. Atlantic salmon could potentially pass on diseases to native salmon, which the local orca whales rely upon as a food source.

The departments determined that Cooke was negligent in maintaining the facility and fined the company $332,000 for violating the state’s Clean Water Act permit.

Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources canceled two permits for Cooke Aquaculture operations in Port Angeles and Cypress Island.

Cooke owned nine net pen operations in the state of Washington at the time of the collapse. According to the state investigation, a combination of anchor dragging, failure of mooring attachment points and failure of the structure’s framing caused the pen to collapse. The same facility experienced mooring failures twice in July of that year.

“This bill takes a critical step toward protecting the Puget Sound and the native species that call it home,” said Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds in a statement. “Our economy, history and way of life are integrally linked with this delicate ecosystem. We must take the necessary actions to protect it.”