The NWAA allowed to join Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s lawsuit against the DNR

Court ruled in favor of the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance, recognizing its members' interest in the Tribe's cause against the closure of Washington fish farms.
Floating pens at a fish farm in the Salish Sea, Washington State. Photo: Adobe Stock.
Floating pens at a fish farm in the Salish Sea, Washington State. Photo: Adobe Stock.

The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) has won in court the right to join the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe's lawsuit against the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, on behalf of its members. The lawsuit was filed to challenge Washington's fish farm closure order.

The Thurston County Superior Court upheld the Alliance, rejecting arguments made by the DNR saying the ban on commercial net fish farms had no impact on the interests of NWAA members or, at best, had an "attenuated interest". The ruling was handed down by the Honorable Indu Thomas, the same judge who just a week ago dismissed Cooke's claims against the Washington DNR.

A ban beyond legislative intent

The Tribe filed the lawsuit over the Puget Sound net cage aquaculture ban in December 2022, one month after its announcement. In taking the legal action, they asserted that they were doing so to protect their sovereign rights in response to Commissioner Hillary Franz and the DNR's "ill-informed and overreaching" decision to ban sustainable marine aquaculture in Puget Sound waters.

In its argument, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe said that, among other things, "the Commissioner's ban is a step beyond legislative intent", because Washington law has consistently directed the DNR to manage state-owned waters in a manner that encourages food production and water-dependent uses.

Likewise, the tribe insisted DNR's decision went against science, a premise also supported by the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance in its decision to join the lawsuit. "[The] Commissioner's total commercial ban appears to also be overbroad and untethered to the specific science of other expert agencies", NWAA stated, arguing that "fish farming, particularly the farming of native fish species, as enacted into state law in 2018, can be accomplished with minimal impacts to the environment".

Ready to begin a new chapter for aquaculture in WA

Following the Court's ruling, NWAA Executive Director Jeanne McKnight expressed the Alliance's satisfaction. According to her statements, its members are pleased that the Court upheld the trade group, recognizing, despite the DNR's opposition, that its members have an interest related to the subject matter of this action.

"We question why the state's landlord, DNR, felt it necessary to oppose a business association in supporting its members' interests in such an important matter", she said. "The Commissioner's order last November not only caused great harm to the hard-working families who made a living farming a nutritious product the world needs, but also harmed the many companies that supply this industry with eggs, feed, technology, and market support".

"To then attempt to take away our basic right to representation of our interests in this important litigation by attempting to deny our basic right to intervene makes no sense", McKnight added. And concluded, "We are now ready to begin a new chapter for aquaculture in this region".

About the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance

Now 40 years old, the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance – formerly known as the Washington Fish Farmers Association – represents the leading aquaculture producers and support-related businesses in the Pacific region- including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, British Columbia, and Alaska. Its members share a vision of feeding the world with high-quality, sustainably and responsibly produced fish, shellfish and seafood grown in marine waters, freshwater, or in land-based operations.

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