Washington bans fish pens, citing threat to salmon


Net aquaculture involves raising fish in large floating pens anchored in the water

“As we have seen all too clearly here in Washington, there is no way to safely raise fish in net pens in the open sea without endangering our struggling native salmon,” said Public Lands Commissioner Frantz. “I’m proud to stand with the rest of the West Coast today in saying that our waters are too important to risk for aquaculture profits.” (Bob Brewer/Unsplash)

SEATTLE (AP) – Washington on Friday banned fish farming using net pens in state waters [November 18, 2022]citing the danger to struggling local salmon.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Frantz issued the order banning the aquaculture method, which involves raising fish in large floating pens anchored in the water, and has been practiced in Puget Sound for more than three decades.

California, Oregon and Alaska have already banned net aquaculture, and Canada is working on a plan to phase it out in British Columbia’s coastal waters by 2025. Supporters say fish farming is an environmentally sound way to feed the world’s growing population; critics say it could spread disease to native animals and degrade the environment.

“As we have seen all too clearly here in Washington, there is no way to safely raise fish in open marine pens without endangering our struggling native salmon,” Frantz said. “I’m proud to stand with the rest of the West Coast today in saying that our waters are too important to risk for aquaculture profits.”

According to the World Wildlife Fund, salmon aquaculture is one of the fastest growing food production systems in the world. It accounts for about 70% of the market. In 2018, the World Resources Institute released a report that said the industry would need to more than double by 2050 to meet the seafood needs of 10 billion people.

Since 2016, all of the net pens in Washington’s marine waters have been owned by one company, the seafood giant Cooke Aquaculture of New Brunswick, Canada. In a statement earlier this week, after the state said it would terminate the company’s remaining leases in Puget Sound, the company said it was disappointed.

“Environmental organizations and Commissioner Franz have chosen to ignore the fact that farmed fish is one of the healthiest and most efficient ways to feed the world’s population with the lowest environmental impact and lowest carbon footprint of any animal protein” , – said Cook. “Farmers work closely with world-renowned scientists from academia, government and the private sector to develop rigorous standards and implement best practices for fish health and environmental protection.”

In 2017, a net pen operated by Cook off Cypress Island, near the San Juan Archipelago, collapsed and released 260,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. Escape suggested the frantic response of the Lumi Indian tribewhich mobilized its fishing teams to catch tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon before they could interbreed or reproduce with native salmon.

The company argued that the fish were sterile and would simply die without threatening local salmon stocks, but the legislature responded in 2018 and banned non-native fish in pens.

Cook moved to farm native glasshead, but many Native American tribes and environmental groups, including the Wild Fish Conservancy, continued to object, saying that unnaturally large stocks of farmed fish spread disease to wild populations and that their mass feeding and excretions were degrading the marine environment. .

Several studies have shown that juvenile salmon from the Fraser watershed in British Columbia were infected with higher levels of sea lice after swimming past fishing pens, This was reported by the Seattle Times. And in March, an audit found that the number of sea lice at a farm in Clayquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island was about five times the legal limit. Lice can affect the growth of salmon and in severe cases lead to death.

“It’s about disease vectors and how they can get into wild populations,” said Todd Woodard, director of natural resources for the Samish Nation. “When you say, ‘We raise local fish,’ that means local fish are not farmed or raised in such concentrated environments.”

Following the 2017 collapse, the Washington Department of Natural Resources increased inspections of net pens. In Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula, the department canceled the lease of a clean paddock for failing to maintain the facility in a safe condition and operating in an off-limits area. Cook unsuccessfully challenged the decision in court.

And earlier this week, the state terminated leases for Cooke Aquaculture’s remaining net pens in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island and near Hope Island in Skagit Bay. The company has until December 14 to finish raising the metal structures and start deconstructing the equipment.

The decision will force Cooke to kill 332,000 young steelhead that were planned to be stocked in the two remaining pens next year, the company said.

“This is a big win for everyone who values ​​the Puget Sound ecosystem,” Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said, according to The Seattle Times. “This action will eliminate the harmful effects in the waters of our ancestors. The Rich Passage pens … have blocked and polluted our fishing grounds for too long, and we are relieved to know they will be removed, restoring our waters to a more natural state.”

— Associated Press Washington bans fish pens, citing threat to salmon

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