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What was on the horizon following the decision by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) not to renew two trout farming licenses in Puget Sound for Cooke, has come to pass. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced there will be no more net pen aquaculture in Washington. An executive order dated Nov. 17 prohibits commercial finfish aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands managed by her agency, the Washington DNR.

Farmed finfish vs. native salmon

“As we’ve seen too clearly here in Washington, there is no way to safely farm finfish in open sea net pens without jeopardizing our struggling native salmon. Today, I’m announcing an end to the practice. We, as a state, are going to do better by our salmon, by our fishermen, and by our tribes”, said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz. “Commercial finfish farming is detrimental to salmon, orcas and marine habitat. I’m proud to stand with the rest of the west coast today by saying our waters are far too important to risk for fish farming profits”, she added.

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Commissioner Franz was joined at the announcement by Chairman Leonard Forsman of the Suquamish Tribe, and Emma Helverson, Executive Director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. Nevertheless, in the subsequent press release, her decision was also supported by statements of support from Anthony “Tse Sum Ten” Hillaire, Chairman of the Lummi Nation; Teri Gobin, Chairman of the Tulalip Tribes; and Tom Wooten, Chairman of the Samish Indian Nation.

Opportunities for land-based aquaculture

Commissioner Franz’s order directs DNR staff to develop the necessary changes to the agency’s rules, policies, and procedures to prohibit commercial finfish aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands. It also recalls that this decision will align Washington’s net-pen salmon aquaculture policy with policies already in place in Alaska, California, and Oregon. Likewise, the notice of the announcement also reminds this order does not apply to hatcheries that restore or enhance native populations, only to commercial aquaculture.

The release devotes its final paragraphs again to Cooke. Hilary Franz reminds the company has until December 14 to terminate operations in Puget Sound and begin removing its facilities and repairing any environmental damage. The Canadian company was also one of the protagonists in the journalists’ questions following the announcement, especially after the Commissioner stated that they have had conversations with Cooke and other companies, concerning land-based aquaculture. “I believe there’s huge opportunities for land-based aquaculture”, she said.

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