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Following Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s statement announcing there will be no more net pen aquaculture in Washington, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific has stated that it is disappointed to learn that the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has chosen to ban commercial finfish aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands and ignore the science. “The order is short-sighted, and the Commissioner’s position neglects extensive scientific analysis and judicial rulings, which found that there are no significant adverse environmental impacts arising from marine fish farming”, said the declaration.

Cooke’s Cypress Island fish farm collapse

While not a decision that affects Cooke exclusively, the Canadian family-owned company was very much in the statement where Commissioner Franz announced the executive order banning commercial finfish aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands managed by her agency, the Washington DNR. “In August of 2017, a net pen at Cooke’s Cypress Island fish farm collapsed, releasing hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound”, highlighted the press release issued by Franz’s office.

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“Since the unfortunate collapse of a steel cage system on one fish farm at Cypress Island in 2017, Cooke has worked collaboratively and transparently with regulatory agencies to identify areas of improvement and implement regulatory and monitoring processes to ensure that our operations meet and exceed the highest standards”, they replied from the company. “The agencies have worked with Cooke to rework its permits, increase transparency into Cooke’s operations, and implement third-party oversight in the form of independent engineering reviews of our facilities”.

Disheartening loss of opportunities

As did in its response to the DNR’s decision of not renewing two steelhead trout farming licenses in Puget Sound, in this new release the Canadian family-owned company distinguishes DNR staff and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. “We are proud of the relationships we’ve built with agency staff and the progress that’s been made over the last five years to improve operations”, they stated.

According to the company, scientific analysis has shown that finfish aquaculture in Puget Sound is compatible with wild fish, and they recall that it is a necessary form of local food production and job creation. “It is disheartening that these opportunities have been cast aside by DNR”, they said. Afterward, they added they remain focused on how to support their employees after this “abrupt decision”.

No discussion about land-based aquaculture

Precisely when asked by reporters what can be done to help the industry and those who will lose their jobs following this decision, Franz said they were aware that it was going to have an impact on rural communities and the economy. However, she added that she believed there were huge opportunities for land-based aquaculture and that they had had discussions with Cooke and others doing that work. “We’ve even gone out to the Cookes and other companies that do work and say, ‘Let’s talk about how we do this in closed facilities uplands that is not going to have any future risk to the environment, to our tribal treaty rights, to our salmon'”, she claimed.

In Cooke Aquaculture’s release following these statements, its Vice President of Public Relations, Joel Richardson, expressed his surprise. “We were also surprised to hear Commissioner Franz mention in her comments today that she has been in discussion with Cooke with respect to land-based aquaculture”, he said. “We have not met with the Commissioner on this matter. Cooke Aquaculture Pacific was focused on our steelhead trout farms and Salish Fish, our joint venture with the Jamestown Tribe, he ended.

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