The Wild Fish Conservancy this week submitted formal applications to the Washington Department of Natural Resources to lease Puget Sound state-owned aquatic land sites used and leased for commercial open water net pen aquaculture.
“The fifteen-year leases that have authorized the commercial net pen aquaculture industry to pollute and profit in Washington’s public waters are expiring, requiring the industry to reapply,” said the group in a press release.
After the collapse of Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island open water net pen in 2017, Washington state passed a law banning nonnative Atlantic salmon net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound after the expiration of Cooke’s existing leases.
The company submitted a new proposal in fall 2019 to transition their facilities to native species in order to avoid the phase out of their Puget Sound net pens and to qualify for new leases for all sites.
“The continued use of public waters for commercial net pen aquaculture directly undermines the will of the public who have fought tirelessly to protect Puget Sound from this industry and invested significantly in the recovery of wild salmon, steelhead, orcas, and the health of Puget Sound.” says Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. “The expiration of these leases comes less than once in a decade and offers the public a rare opportunity to work together to take back our sound and restore these waters after thirty years of rampant pollution and industrial use.”
“In accordance with existing public-use regulations and in concert with obligations to fulfill tribal treaty rights,” said the press release, the conservancy’s campaign, Taking Back Our Sound Restoration Project, “seeks to hold these lands in trust for the sole purposes of restoring these industrialized aquatic lands to their natural state for the restoration and conservation of threatened and endangered species, water quality, and the overall health and function of Puget Sound’s ecosystem; and restoring full access to 130 acres of aquatic lands to the public for their benefit, use and enjoyment.”
Washington’s laws direct DNR to protect state-owned aquatic lands as a public trust and to strive for uses that ensure environmental protection, encourage direct use, and provide a balance of benefits for all citizens, said the group.
“As Cooke reapplies for each of its expiring or recently terminated leases, DNR will need to compare both applications and proposed uses against the state’s goals and philosophy for managing public lands, creating an unusual competition and leaving DNR with a precedent-setting choice to make—continue to lease these waters for the restoration of Puget Sound and use by all, or the degradation of public waters and profit of a few.”
“To date, Commissioner (Hilary) Franz has shown exceptional leadership when it comes to holding Cooke Aquaculture accountable for our environmental laws and protecting Puget Sound from this industry” said Beardslee. “By choosing the Taking Back Our Sound proposal, Commissioner Franz will guarantee the public that these lands, currently degraded and restricted for private profit, will be restored and managed for the public’s benefit and use by all citizens.”
“Throughout the coming months, the newly launched Taking Back Our Sound campaign will offer the public opportunities to make their voices heard on this important issue and to call on Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and DNR to make the Sound choice for Puget Sound and current and future generations.
The conservancy’s letter to Franz can be viewed at https://wildfishconservancy.org/CoverLettertoPLCHilaryFranz_final.pdf
— CBB, Jan. 23, 2020, WDFW APPROVES PERMIT TO COOKE AQUACULTURE TO FARM STERILE RAINBOW TROUT/STEELHEAD IN NETS ONCE USED FOR ATLANTIC SALMON https://www.cbbulletin.com/wdfw-approves-permit-to-cooke-aquaculture-to-farm-sterile-rainbow-trout-steelhead-in-nets-once-used-for-atlantic-salmon/