A broad range of American fisheries officials and scientists are calling for an inquiry into the sudden ban on commercial net pen aquaculture in Washington State.
By Fabian Dawson
Pressure is mounting onWashington Public Lands Commissioner, Hilary Franz, to explain her “political decision” to ban commercial net pen aquaculture in the state.
A broad range of US national, state, and species-specific trade associations, fisheries scientists, resource economists, and veterinary medicine professionals, have sent Franz a letter saying they are concerned at the lack of peer-reviewed science and historical data that would support the ban.
“We believe that a third-party review is needed to show that Franz’s order has no basis in scientific fact and is, in essence, an unsupported action by a government agency,” the letter stated, adding; “Most of the US seafood industry believes the order to be just plain wrong.”
“We do not argue that aquaculture is without impact or risk. Zero impact or zero risk is an impossible standard that no food production system can live up to. At the same time, however, marine aquaculture from domestic production helps reduce the carbon footprint from imports.
“Given the fact that the commercial net pens affected by this Order occupy approximately .0004% of total state-owned aquatic lands, we believe that a third-party review is needed to show that the Order has no basis in scientific fact.”
Franz, last month, suddenly cancelled the leases of Canadian seafood farmer Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, which is in partnership with Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to raise Steelhead, and followed it up with an executive order to ban the State’s 40-year tradition of fish farming in Puget Sound.
She has now given another month to Cooke to harvest the remaining fish in the pens.
The current leases will formally expire later this week, according to Franz, putting an end to the Canadian company’s steelhead farming operations in Washington State.
Franz is being backed by fish farming detractors and activists, and has since launched her re-election campaign within days of her announcement.
Joel Richardson, Cooke’s Vice President Public Relations said the company is exploring available options for our employees, operations and investments in Washington.
“This decision ignores the fact that net pen aquaculture is practiced by others widely across the state including tribes and the state government for delayed release fisheries enhancement and other commercial fish farming of native species,” he said.
Richardson said the original deadline imposed by DNR of Dec. 14th to decommission the farms was unrealistic.
“Commissioner Franz was forcing hard-working blue collar fish farmers out of work just days before Christmas. What kind of a politician intentionally causes personal and family economic hardship to their own constituents at Christmas?”
Other than spouting the rhetoric of anti-salmon farming detractors, Franz has not made 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.
For instance, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has taken direct aim with Franz’s allies like the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC), which the government agency says misuses scientific literature to exaggerate risks to native salmon.
In a January 2020 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.
(Image shows Hilary Franz being sworn in as Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands – courtesy Department of Natural Resources)