Washington DOE Revises Permits Allowing Cooke Aquaculture To Raise Sterile, All-Female Steelhead In Puget Sound

The Washington Department of Ecology has revised four water quality permits to allow sterile, all-female steelhead to be raised in marine net pens, instead of Atlantic salmon.

The permit revisions are part of the multi-agency permitting process Cooke Aquaculture went through to change the type of fish it raises in four Puget Sound net pens from non-native Atlantic salmon to native steelhead, also known as rainbow trout. The facilities are located near Bainbridge Island and La Conner.

— CBB, Dec. 4, 2019, ATLANTIC SALMON NET PEN COLLAPSE: COOKE AQUACULTURE AGREES TO PAY WILD FISH CONSERVANCY $2.75 MILLION IN SETTLEMENT https://www.cbbulletin.com/atlantic-salmon-net-pen-collapse-cooke-aquaculture-agrees-to-pay-wild-fish-conservancy-2-75-million-in-settlement/

After receiving approval from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to switch species, the company needed Ecology’s approval for updated water quality permits.

In response to the company’s application, Ecology drafted revised permits and took public feedback from Sept. 9 through Oct. 26, 2020, receiving 147 submissions. All documents, including Ecology’s response to comments, are at www.ecology.wa.gov/NetPenPermit

While Ecology determined that switching species would not change potential impacts on water quality, the agency strengthened regulations in the permits to ensure water quality is protected.

Additional requirements include:

— Clarification that any fish reared in Cooke’s net pens are prohibited from release.

— Added requirements and details on how to notify state agencies of events that could potentially lead to fish escape.

— Increased monitoring and reporting of potential fish escape during stocking and harvesting.

— Added reporting for fish feed consumption.

— Added details on how nets must be maintained.

— Added a requirement to study new technologies and propose alternatives that reduce or prevent discharge of uneaten feed or metabolic waste.

All net pens operated by Cooke are currently empty, with Atlantic salmon harvest completed in October 2020.

In 2018, the Legislature approved a ban on non-native net pen fish farming; the ban goes into effect in 2022. The law does not prohibit native finfish aquaculture.

Cooke Aquaculture’s aquatic lands leases with the state Department of Natural Resources expire in 2022. For Cooke Aquaculture to continue fish farming with native fish beyond 2022, DNR would need to renew the aquatic lands leases.

If Cooke Aquaculture’s aquatic lands leases are not renewed in 2022, Ecology’s water quality permits give the company two years to clean up and remove the net pens.

Ecology last updated the net pen permits in July 2019 to include increased protections for water quality based on lessons learned from the 2017 net pen collapse at the Cooke Cypress Island site.

Also see:

— CBB, Sept. 11, 2020, WDOE ACCEPTING COMMENTS ON DRAFT PERMITS FOR COOKE AQUACULTURE TO FARM NATIVE STEELHEAD IN FOUR PUGET SOUND PENS https://www.cbbulletin.com/cooke-aquaculture-seeks-to-modify-water-quality-permits-to-allow-steelhead-farming-in-puget-sound/

For background, see:

— CBB, October 10, 2019, “WDFW Seeks Comments On Cooke Aquaculture Proposal For Farming Sterile Steelhead In Puget Sound,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/wdfw-seeks-comments-on-cooke-aquaculture-proposal-for-farming-sterile-steelhead-in-puget-sound/

— CBB, April 30, 2019, “Cooke Aquaculture To Pay Full Penalty For Fish Pen Collapse In Puget Sound,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/cooke-aquaculture-to-pay-full-penalty-for-fish-pen-collapse-in-puget-sound/

— CBB, August 30, 2018, “WDFW Authorizes Cooke Aquaculture To Transfer Atlantic Salmon To Puget Sound Net Pens,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/wdfw-authorizes-cooke-aquaculture-to-transfer-atlantic-salmon-to-puget-sound-net-pens/

— CBB, December 1, 2017, “Wild Fish Conservancy Sues Cooke Aquaculture Over Atlantic Salmon Fish Farm Escape,” https://www.cbbulletin.com/wild-fish-conservancy-sues-cooke-aquaculture-over-atlantic-salmon-fish-farm-escape/

— CBB, October 6, 2017, “Washington Gov. Asks Cooke Aquaculture To Withdraw Request To Transfer One Million Atlantic Salmon,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439675.aspx

— CBB, Sept. 22, 2017, “Escaped Atlantic Salmon Continue To Be Caught; WDFW Says Fish Not Expected To Establish Themselves” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439602.aspx

–CBB, September 8, 2017, “Over Half Of Net Pen Atlantic Salmon In San Juans Escaped; Reported Catches At Columbia Mouth,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439541.aspx

–CBB, September 1, 2017, “Fish Farm Escape: Intent To Sue Filed, Washington Sets Up Incident Command Structure To Contain,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/439510.aspx

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