Cooke will not have to harvest fish in Washington this week

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific rainbow trout fish farm at Hope Island, Washington, 2022. Photo: Cooke.
Cooke Aquaculture Pacific rainbow trout fish farm at Hope Island, Washington, 2022. Photo: Cooke.

Cooke will not yet have to collect its fish in Washington. The court has granted the company injunction for the safe removal of fish and equipment from its rainbow trout hatcheries at Rich Passage and Hope Island in Puget Sound. In practice, this means that the initial deadline set by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which ended at the end of this week, January 14, is extended for another three months and Cooke will have until April 14, 2023, to do so.

Time to do things right

The decision is the latest in a court case that has pitted the Canadian family-owned company against the Washington DNR and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. Cooke Aquaculture Pacific first appealed the denial of its trout farming lease licenses in Washington and, after failing to do so, returned to court seeking a preliminary injunction "to keep employees safe".  Both after Franz announced that Washington's public aquatic lands will no longer host commercial net pen finfish aquaculture.

According to Cooke's statement, signed by its Vice President Public Relations, Joel Richardson, the company requested this injunction measure "to protect its employees and ensure safe working conditions". Previously, it had said they were seeking "what is only reasonable to expect from DNR: the time to do things right", and, according to the company, that time were three more months, until April 14.  

In Cooke's appeal, Kevin J. Bright, the Permit Coordinator for Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, stated that even though the forecasted schedule is intended to move through the remaining fish at Hope Island and Clam Bay at a steady rate, for reasons of safety, scheduled harvest dates may change due to severe winter weather forecasts or actual conditions at marine sites. "Our managers and employees know that safety is more important than a schedule", he said. "We again ask DNR to give us until April 14 to finish these harvests. While we may be able to get it done sooner, rushing harvests and not having the flexibility to do so safely is a risk we cannot accept", he added.

Employees will not suffer unnecessary risks

The aquaculture company has recalled that it operates its farms in accordance with carefully coordinated farm management plans, in which the safety of employees is its top priority. After learning of the court's decision, it has been grateful that its request has been granted. "Cooke can now remove the fish on its original harvest schedule and properly remove our equipment without subjecting employees to unnecessary risk", it claimed.

"The arbitrary timelines originally set forth by DNR were impossible to meet without exposing Cooke employees to dangerous winter working conditions, increasing perceived environmental risks, and causing significant financial harm", the company stated. Moreover, it also remarked that "significant changes in harvest schedules can both increase safety risks for employees and disruptions for customers".

Precisely the risk of disruptions for customers and financial losses in the form of destroyed harvests – there are 360,000 rainbow trout to harvest – was, after the safety of employees, another of the reasons given by the company to request this extension that has finally been granted.

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