Trout is the new salmon in Washington’s fish farms

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

By Fabian Dawson

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has approved an application from the Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture company to farm trout in Puget Sound net pens.

This includes four pens currently operating near Rich Passage and Skagit Bay, but may later extend to three other net pens owned by Cooke, said WDFW.

“This permit was approved based on scientific review and is contingent on Cooke complying with strict provisions designed to minimize any risk to native fish species,” said WDFW Deputy Director Amy Windrope.

“We heard from a huge number of stakeholders on this issue, and we appreciate everyone who took time to make their voice heard as part of this process,” she said.

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, something opponents of the fish-farming industry have promised to fight, reported Seattle media.

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.”

“Since coming to Washington as a Canadian family-owned company, caring for our local employees and environmental sustainability have remained our top priority,” said Glenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture Pacific.

“We are very pleased the state approved our trout permit and by working together with the forward-thinking Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, we will continue to provide a fresh supply of healthy seafood and contribute to the local economy.”

Jeanne McKnight, the executive director of the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance, a trade group representing the Pacific Northwest’s aquaculture sector, praised Washington’s move to allow Cooke to shift its production to rainbow trout.

“We commend the state, particularly WDFW, for ‘going the extra mile’ to ensure fairness in making this important decision,” she told SeaWestNews in an earlier interview.

“We are grateful that science has won the day over politics, and we are delighted that Cooke will be able to continue producing sustainable seafood in Washington state, particularly in areas where family-wage jobs are desperately needed.”

Due to its popularity as a game fish, rainbow trout has also been introduced into streams and lakes all over North America, said the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

(Image courtesy of USFWS)