The Washington Department of Ecology this week
penalized Cooke Aquaculture Pacific $332,000 for the negligent release of
Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound.
Cooke violated their water quality permit
leading up to, and during, the net pen collapse near Cypress Island in August
2017, said WDOE.
“This investigation confirms Cooke Aquaculture
was negligent in operating its net pen,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon.
“What’s even worse is that Cooke absolutely could have – and should have –
prevented this incident.”
Specifically, Cooke is fined for violating the
following conditions of their water quality permit:
net cleaning and maintenance
-- Failing to follow required protocol for
-- Insufficient attention to engineering
Ecology penalties may be appealed to the
Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board within 30 days. Money
collected from water pollution fines is placed in the state’s Coastal
Protection Fund that provides grants for water quality improvement projects.
State investigators have determined that an
excessive buildup of mussels and other marine organisms on nets – caused by
Cooke Aquaculture's failure to properly clean them – led to the August 19
collapse of the company's net pen at Cypress Island.
An investigative report – authored by the
departments of Natural Resources, Ecology, and Fish and Wildlife – found that
110 tons of mussels and plants had accumulated on the nets before the incident.
The investigation determined that tidal
currents pushing against the tremendous mass of organisms on the nets
overwhelmed the pen's mooring system and crushed the pen.
Extensive corrosion of the net pen structure
also contributed to the collapse.
In addition, the agencies identified
shortcomings in engineering practices that likely contributed to the failure.
Properly designed and maintained net pens would have withstood the tidal
currents of August 19.
"The collapse was not the result of
natural causes," said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands.
"Cooke's disregard caused this disaster and recklessly put our state's
aquatic ecosystem at risk."
"Cooke made this situation even more
difficult by under-reporting the number of fish that escaped during the net-pen
collapse, and over-reporting the number it recovered afterward," said Amy
Windrope, WDFW's north Puget Sound regional director.
Growth of mussels and other marine organisms
on nets – called "biofouling" – is documented in state agency videos
that show a "rain" of mussels falling off nets as debris from the
collapse was removed. The severe biofouling produced 110 tons of material – an
average of 11 tons per net.
Prior to the collapse, Cooke was aware of both
the excessive biofouling and the poor condition of the facility.
The report details how Cooke didn't follow its
net pen cleaning schedule when broken net washers were not repaired or
replaced. This allowed mussels to accumulate on the nets, which increased the
drag from currents and added pressure to the structure.
Cooke also failed to take necessary
precautions after the net pens were moved out of position in July when strong
currents broke ten mooring points, said the report.
Cooke documents show that after the July
incident, the company had serious concerns about the facility. An internal
company email stated, "We almost lost the farm."
Nevertheless, after the July incident, Cooke
considered, but did not:
-- Replace the biofouled nets,
-- Begin their salmon harvest early, or
-- Increase monitoring of the net pens and
have a tug on standby when strong currents were again expected on August 19.
The report notes that state agencies did not
investigate the July incident because they received incomplete and misleading
information from Cooke.
The report also found that Cooke
misrepresented the number of fish it harvested when the pen collapsed.
According to the report:
-- There were 305,000 fish in the net pen
prior to failure.
-- Cooke reported harvesting/extracting
145,000 fish from the collapsed net pen.
-- The investigation concluded that Cooke
could only have extracted between 42,000 and 62,000 fish.
-- Therefore, between 243,000 and 263,000 fish
actually escaped. Previous estimates, based on Cooke's reports, put the number
of escaped fish at 160,000.
-- Of the escaped fish, 57,000 have been
-- Between 186,000 and 206,000 Atlantic salmon
remain unaccounted for.
The report concludes that monitoring through
the winter and next fall's salmon run season will be critical to knowing if any
escaped Atlantic salmon remain in Washington's waters and if they are
Commissioner Franz is currently reviewing the
report and will make an announcement about the future of the Cypress Island
facility in the coming days.
In December, DNR terminated Cooke's lease of
state aquatic lands in Port Angeles, citing a failure to maintain the facility
in a safe condition.
More documents and information are available