Two state lawmakers have introduced legislation that aims to immediately ban all farming of Atlantic salmon in net pens in Washington waters. If passed, the ban would take effect as soon as it is signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The proposal is not the first legislative attack on the farming of the non-native species here. After the collapse of a net pen off Cyprus Island in August, and the resulting release of about 160,000 Atlantic salmon, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, proposed phasing out the practice as leases with the state Department of Natural Resources expire, which could extend through 2025.
The proposal from Republican Reps. Jim Walsh, of Aberdeen, and Drew MacEwen, who represents the 35th district that includes Hood Canal, is more extreme. MacEwen says there’s too much at stake to put it off any longer.
“We spend millions of dollars and a lot of other resources in this state to protect our native species, which are endangered. And our runs are down. We need to ensure the survival of our native species,” MacEwen said.
“It makes no sense to introduce a non-native species that will directly compete with the native salmon, when here we are spending the amount of money we are trying to enhance native runs,” he said.
The proposal would still allow net pen farming of native fin fish species and has support from the Squaxin Island Tribe, which operates a net pen complex in South Puget Sound, for farm-raised native coho.
Cooke Aquaculture owns the net that collapsed along with 7 others in Washington waters, all of which would be banned under this proposal.
The company says there is no scientific proof that their escaped Atlantic salmon feed in the wild or pose other competitive risks to native fish.
The State Department of Fish and Wildlife confirms that samples collected of the escaped Atlantics after the spill came in with empty stomachs. They were also disease free and sexually immature.
Cooke Vice President of Communications Nell Halse says the company doesn't agree with lawmakers who say that their salmon farms pose a big risk. It's an industry that depends on a healthy ocean environment, she says
Cooke also shares an interest in saving wild salmon and has invested in major projects to help restore them in other jurisdictions.
“And really, we need to focus on, what are the initiatives that are going to really restore wild salmon stocks. And in this case, we do not believe that a proposed legislation to ban salmon farming is going to do anything for wild fish,” Halse said. “We think that collaboration – working together – is a better solution.”
The company has apologized for the August accident and says it is working hard to ensure the safety of its operations.
Right now there is a moratorium on all new permits for net pen operations while the state conducts an investigation of the August spill. Lawmakers reconvene on Jan. 8 when they could consider this latest proposal as well as the one from Sen. Ranker.