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The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decision not to renew Cooke’s Puget Sound steelhead farm licenses may have a new victim. The Salish Fish Project, a partnership between the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Cooke, is now in jeopardy following the DNR’s decision. In a public statement, the Tribe said it was “surprised and disappointed” by the action taken. “The DNR’s decision to end marine net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound is a direct threat to our Tribe’s self-reliance goals and cultural aquaculture traditions via Salish Fish, our Tribe’s sustainable marine aquaculture business”, they said.

This protest adds to the support of major U.S. seafood industry trade groups that have already called for an independent review of the Washington DNR’s decision on Cooke’s farms.

Sustainable marine aquaculture, a viable option

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The Salish Fish partnership is pending the resolution of an application to install a steelhead farm in Port Angeles that has been with the DNR since December 21, 2021. The application was specifically for a lease to install a new steelhead farm at the location of a former Cooke Aquaculture Pacific Atlantic salmon site, one of the leases cancelled by the DNR in 2017.

Finfish and shellfish have always been an integral part of S’Klallam culture and, as the Tribe notes in its release, for millennia have served to feed their families and trade with other tribes. “Tragically, population growth, pollution, and development activities in the Pacific Northwest have negatively impacted our wild fish stocks and our Tribe firmly believes that to take pressure off wild fish harvesting through sustainable marine aquaculture farming is a viable 21st century option”, they stated.

Key to tribal economic self-sufficiency

Salish Fish, Jamestown S’Klallam’s sustainable marine aquaculture company in partnership with Cooke, would provide fresh, local seafood as an alternative fishery product and restore tribal fisheries on the Olympic Peninsula, a critical need for tribal economic self-sufficiency, according to the release. “That is all in jeopardy now due to the DNR’s announcement ending marine net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound”, they claimed.

Joel Richardson, Cooke Aquaculture VP of Public Relations. Photo: Cooke.
Joel Richardson, Cooke Aquaculture VP of Public Relations. Photo: Cooke.

In the same vein is Joel Richardson, Cooke Aquaculture Vice President of Public Relations. “The Jamestown Tribe’s efforts to farm steelhead trout through the Salish Fish venture is now jeopardized by DNR’s actions because the other facilities that would support that farm such as hatcheries and harvest vessels depend on a certain amount of farming in Washington to be viable”, he said. “That volume of farming was targeted by DNR in its decision to not renew Cooke’s other leases, which will adversely impact the Jamestown Tribe’s own efforts to exercise its self-determination and treaty rights”.

Unacceptable influence

As in Cooke’s response to the DNR’s decision, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has also pointed out that this action is totally against the science and that there is a Washington State Supreme Court landmark opinion that found that steelhead trout farming – a native fish allowed under Washington law – would have no likely significant adverse effects on the environment.

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“The DNR’s decision is an irresponsible denial of what science has repeatedly proven: that marine net pen aquaculture is safe for the environment and the most sustainable, climate friendly way to feed the world”, they said, and went further. “Instead of allowing science to guide sustainable marine aquaculture policy in Puget Sound, the DNR is choosing to listen to a small group of ill-informed activist groups with their own political and fundraising agendas. This influence in DNR’s decision is unacceptable to our Tribe”, they highlited.

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