‘Activist’ lawsuit is a net loss for Washington

“These groups are holding Washington back from the growth in aquaculture that is taking place elsewhere in the United States and around the world.” – The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA)

By SeaWestNews

The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) has accused a coalition of “anti-fish farm activists” of “misusing the legal system” after the group sued the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) over its decision to grant a permit to raise trout in Puget Sound net pens.

The permit was granted last month to the Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture, after an extensive scientific review and stakeholder consultation, and is contingent on the company complying with strict provisions designed to minimize any risk to native fish species.

But the coalition insists that the state agencies failed to evaluate the scientific evidence that the fish farms would harm federally listed steelhead, salmon and Southern Resident killer whales, degrade water quality and damage the overall health of Puget Sound.

“The activist organizations who joined forces to halt this project—Friends of the Earth, Wild Fish Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Center for Food Safety – are out of touch with both the science and the evidence that aquaculture is, in fact, one of the most environmentally responsible methods for producing food,” said Jeanne McKnight of the NWAA.

“We are dismayed but not surprised to see that once again, a coalition of self-styled ‘protectors’ of the environment are misusing the legal system to halt a legitimately permitted project to farm all-female, sterile native fish in Puget Sound in compliance with the state’s new laws regarding fish farming.

“We regard this lawsuit as a desperate, last-ditch effort to delay a project that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife approved after a year of intensive scientific review and public input. While the intent of this frivolous lawsuit is to delay the project and harm the two companies involved in the joint venture, we believe this legal action will also do major harm to the people of this region who desperately need jobs and seafood they can afford,” she added.

McKnight said that NWAA has complete confidence in the process that the state went through before permitting this project.

“The scientists and regulators at WDFW who are in charge of aquaculture permitting are well-qualified to make the decision they made in January to permit this important project. It is unfortunate that the self-styled “friends” of Puget Sound have demonstrated that they place ideology over sound science. 

“These groups are holding Washington back from the growth in aquaculture that is taking place elsewhere in the United States and around the world. The rest of the world has recognized the role aquaculture plays in providing nutritious, responsibly produced seafood,” she said.

The lawsuit charges that the permit poses significant environmental risks and that it depends on mitigation measures that will not prevent the well-documented environmental harm this proposal poses to Puget Sound.

“We need to be doing everything we can to save our wild salmon and orcas,” said Sophia Ressler, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups which brought the lawsuit.

Washington’s fish farms have operated in Puget Sound since the 1980s under an assortment of owners throughout the years. In 2016, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific purchased the farms, retained all its rural workforce and began investing to modernize the operations.

in 2017, the company faced some $332,000 in fines over water quality after hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon escaped a Cooke net-pen structure.

Following the escapes, the Washington Legislature in March 2018 voted to phase out farming of non-native fish — including Atlantic salmon — in Washington waters.

This vote, described as an ‘emotional response by politicians’, was cast despite there being no example of the transfer of disease from farmed salmon to wild fish ever being documented by a regulatory agency in Washington.

Cooke’s move to raise all-female, sterile (triploid) rainbow trout/steelhead allows it to continue operating in Washington waters.

The project will fall under a joint-venture with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe ‘to sustainably rear Northwest native species, which will require investment in new equipment and technology while supporting local jobs,’ said the company.

“This approval to farm trout through marine aquaculture supports our Council’s commitment to diversified economic development as strong stewards of our environment,” said Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe Chairman/CEO W. Ron Allen.

“We’re proud to partner with Cooke and look forward to producing top quality seafood for consumers in Washington and across the US.”

(Image – Jim Parsons, GM, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific (left) and Ron Allen, Tribal Council Chair/CEO, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, signed the partnership to raise trout in Washington waters.)