“These activists, they don’t build anything…they just want to destroy what we have built around our sustainable aquaculture and salmon farming operations for their political gains.”

Anti-salmon farming activists destroy a tribal legacy

“These activists, they don’t build anything…they just want to destroy what we have built around our sustainable aquaculture and salmon farming operations for their political gains.”

By Fabian Dawson

The history of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, a small and stable sovereign nation located south of the BC border, in Washington State, has always been underlined by a determination to forge a path for its future generations. 

This included, farming aquatic food sources to improve cultivating, and harvesting fin and shellfish, for both consumption and economic self-reliance.

The Tribe became very good at it, and over the decades Salish Fish, the Jamestown S’Klallam’s aquaculture  business, would provide fresh, local seafood and restore tribal fisheries on the Olympic Peninsula, which is a critical need for the region’s economic self-sufficiency.

The aquaculture ventures also built food sovereignty, and brought critical jobs to rural Washington and the working waterfront of Port Angeles.

All of that is now in jeopardy because of a unilateral, undemocratic and unscientific executive order issued last week by Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, effectively ending all marine net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound.

Franz, who is seeking re-election as the commissioner with an eye on the governor’s mansion, hopes her move will get her the much needed votes from her allies in the anti-fish farming lobby.

“These activists, they don’t build anything…they just want to destroy what we have built around our sustainable aquaculture and salmon farming operations for their political gains,” an American aquaculture industry veteran told SeaWestNews.

Bruce Gryniewski, a spokesperson for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, agreed.

“The announcement was political; crafted to placate ill-informed activist groups who refuse to admit the vast array of scientific studies show us that well-regulated aquaculture is not a threat to the environment, or wild salmon,” said Gryniewski.

“Our Tribe have always been conscientious stewards of our natural environment and we look seven generations ahead in all that we do. We view modern aquaculture as the environmentally responsible solution for producing seafood and exercising our treaty rights – now and into the future. 

“We urge the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reverse this ill-informed order, follow science instead of politics and continue to allow well-regulated and environmentally safe marine net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound.”

Franz, who heads (DNR), aggressively announced she has terminated Cooke Aquaculture’s last two net-pen aquaculture leases in Puget Sound. Following the termination of the Canadian seafood company’s leases, Franz decreed last Friday she has banned the 40-year practice of commercial fish farming in state-owned waters.

Other than spouting the rhetoric of anti-salmon farming detractors, Franz does not make any mention of a series of rulings and peer-reviewed scientific studies that show Cooke’s operations in Washington State has little to no adverse environmental impact to wild stocks in the area.

In March 2022, the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service released a biological opinion regarding marine finfish aquaculture in Puget Sound, finding little to no negative impact on native species such as endangered salmon and Orcas, or their habitat.

In January 2020, in a landmark 9-0 ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court found the claims about disease and sea lice impacting wild stocks, that have been falsely and widely propagated by anti-fish farm activists in the Pacific Northwest, to be without merit.

Cooke, which is in partnership with Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said Franz has opted to ignore science and prohibit commercial finfish net pen aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands.

“The order is short-sighted, and the Commissioner’s position neglects extensive scientific analysis and judicial rulings, which found that there are no significant adverse environmental impacts arising from marine fish farming,” said Joel Richardson, Cooke’s Vice President of Public Relations.

Richardson said he was also surprised to hear Commissioner Franz mention in her comments that she has been in discussion with Cooke with respect to land-based aquaculture. 

“We have not met with the Commissioner on this matter,” he said.

Global fisheries, aquaculture and climate scientists have labelled the activism around moving salmon farms to land based operations as unrealistic, reckless, and destructive because growing the global supply of salmon on land would require the same amount of energy per year needed to power a city of 1.2 million people and contribute to higher CO2 emissions.

Raising land based Atlantic salmon also costs 12 times more than ocean farming, they said.

So far, three leading US trade groups–the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA), National Fisheries Institute (NFI), and the National Aquaculture Association (NAA) are calling for an independent review of Franz’s s decision by one or more third parties.

“We find it puzzling that an agency whose mission is to protect our natural resources would target one of the most climate-friendly and environmentally beneficial food sectors,” said NWAA President and CEO of tribally owned Jamestown Seafood, Jim Parsons.

“We are also at a loss to understand why DNR would choose to ignore the science that shows marine aquaculture to have a negligible impact on the water—particularly compared with other marine water users,” Parsons said.

“Aquaculture has the ability to sustainably and affordably increase the availability of the healthiest animal protein on the planet, while also producing jobs—an impressive combination,” said Gavin Gibbons, Vice President for Communications at the National Fisheries Institute. “At a time when important efforts to grow the US aquaculture sector are underway, this decision is disappointing,” he said.

“The US aquaculture farming community recognizes the value and benefits of regulations to protect the public, environment and farming operations,” commented Sebastian Belle, President of the National Aquaculture Association.

“In this instance where science is ignored, which is so very critical to achieving excellence in governance and finding a balance between man and nature, no one benefits. We strongly support an independent review by objective scientists and hope the citizens of Puget Sound will agree.”

Franz has also sidestepped questions on whether she had visited any of the fish farms being impacted by her decision.

A bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers, who visited the farms to see the operations for themselves, told Franz in a letter that “it was abundantly clear to us during our tour that these are not your grandfather’s fish farm operations.”

“Net pen aquaculture has become a modern and sustainable industry, utilizing state-of-the-art technology which allows for the comprehensive monitoring of each farm’s environmental conditions,”   the letter read. 

“Careful adherence to state regulations and reporting requirements allows your agency to keep a close eye on fish farm operations, ensuring your agency has complete information on a consistent basis.

“This tour provided us with an excellent opportunity to see a working fish farm that grows healthy, affordable protein in a manner that’s sustainable, environmentally responsible and minimizes the carbon footprint of food production in Washington State, all while providing dozens of rural, family wage jobs for the communities in which they operate,” the lawmakers said.

(Washington State legislators tour the aquaculture operations of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe – submitted photo)