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We knew Cooke’s response and also that of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, but the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) had not yet spoken out. The association, which represents major aquaculture producers and aquaculture-related businesses in the Pacific region, has taken its time but has been the harshest in its statements. “You got it wrong”, the NWAA responds to Commissioner Franz. Six other leading seafood trade associations have joined them in this response, calling for a third-party review of the scientific data on which the Commissioner relied in making her decision.

Third-party review requested

Less than a week after announcing the non-renewal of Cooke Aquaculture’s fish farming contracts, Washington State Public Lands Commissioner, Hilary Franz, announced at a press conference that Washington will no longer host commercial finfish net pen aquaculture. “Commercial finfish farming is detrimental to salmon, orcas and marine habitat”, the commissioner said at the time. She added, “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”.

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The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance has once again called for a third-party review of the scientific data on which Commissioner Franz relied in making her decision. As with their statement of support for Cooke, NWAA is not alone in this petition. In this case, six other seafood trade associations – the National Fisheries Institute, National Aquaculture Association, Global Seafood Alliance, Best Aquaculture Practices, California Aquaculture Association, and the US Trout Farmers Association – as well as respected fisheries scientists, veterinarians, and fish health professionals have joined them.

“There exists a vast body of scientific studies that show minimal impact of today’s aquaculture practices on other species and the environment”, claimed the NWAA. “This sudden decision to terminate leases without any scientific or legal basis, of a company that spent five years working with the State of Washington to meet its rigorous new net pen guidelines, should concern every business that leases public lands here in Washington”.

Facts and figures

“The reality is this”, the NWAA response continued, “of the 2.6 million acres of public aquatic lands in Washington, the four available leases total 112 acres, with just 11 acres used for net pens. That’s 0.0004% of all public lands available for lease”, they said. But there are more important facts. Cooke has until Dec. 14 to remove the gear and cull 332,000 juvenile fish, “an impossible deadline”, according to NWAA. After that, 34 Cooke Aquaculture Pacific employees will be out of a job.

“This devastating decision will have a ripple effect that will extend far beyond the company”, said NWAA. In their view, the unfortunate timing of Commissioner Franz’s announcement, at the beginning of the vacation season, shows both a lack of humanity and an alarming lack of leadership. “This is no way to run a public agency, and our coalition has four words for Commissioner Franz:You got it wrong”, they stated.

The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance also regrets the gesture by Franz and the Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) in publishing a full-page ad in the Sunday edition of the Seattle Times declaring: “WE WON”. The coalition considers it a taunting. “How, indeed, is it a win to celebrate at the expense of hard-working people who now face losing their jobs farming a seafood product that the market wants and now must source from other countries?”, they wondered.

Some outstanding questions

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NWAA’s questions don’t stop there. “How is it a win when you ignore your sister agencies, such as the Department of Ecology and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who worked closely with Cooke as the company sought to comply with the state’s new rigorous net pen guidance?”, they said. “How is it a win when you look the other way at a serious biological opinion filed by the nation’s leading science agency, NOAA, whose multi-year peer reviewed biological opinion found no harm from net pens to the environment OR endangered species?”. And they went further, “How is it a win when you ignore the State Supreme Court’s unanimous approval to allow Cooke to farm steelhead in Washington waters?”.

In their view, what makes Franz’s decision seems like a victory for the environment is just the opposite. “Where will that fish come from?”, they also wondered. “By shutting down production here, we are ignoring the environmental impacts of transporting goods produced elsewhere, creating, in essence, ‘the illusion of natural resource preservation'”, they said.

The questions won’t end there. NWAA has announced that in the coming days, they will be submitting a letter to Commissioner Franz, asking some “tough questions” about the science that the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) used to make its decision. An example: “Was this science from the nation’s leading science agency, NOAA, or did it come from groups such as the WFC, an ENGO with a track record of suing state agencies, the federal government, hatcheries, and private enterprise to line its coffers?”. We will have to pay attention to the answers.

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