Pacific Northwest
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announces the end of net-pen leases for fish farming in state waters, during a Friday news conference in front of a remaining Cooke Aquaculture net off Bainbridge Island. (Kylie Cooper / The Seattle Times)

WA - Washington bans fish-farming net pens, citing salmon threat

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington banned fish-farming with net pens in state waters on Friday, citing danger to struggling native salmon.

Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz issued an executive order banning the aquaculture method, which involves raising fish in large floating pens anchored in the water and has been practiced in Puget Sound for more than three decades.

California, Oregon and Alaska have already outlawed net-pen aquaculture, and Canada is working on a plan to phase it out of British Columbia's coastal waters by 2025. Supporters say fish-farming is an environmentally safe way to feed the world's growing population; critics argue that it can spread disease to native stocks and degrade the environment.

“As we’ve seen too clearly here in Washington, there is no way to safely farm fish in open sea net pens without jeopardizing our struggling native salmon,” Franz said. “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.”

Salmon aquaculture is among the fastest-growing food production systems in the world, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. It accounts for about 70% of the market. In 2018 the World Resources Institute released a report that said the industry needs to more than double by 2050 to meet the seafood demands of 10 billion people.

Since 2016, all of the net pens in Washington's marine waters have been owned by the same company — New Brunswick, Canada-based seafood giant Cooke Aquaculture. In a statement earlier this week, after the state said it would terminate the company's remaining leases in Puget Sound, the company said it was disappointed.

“Environmental organizations and Commissioner Franz are choosing to ignore the fact that farm-raised fish is one of the healthiest and most efficient ways to feed the global population with a minimal environmental impact and the lowest carbon footprint of any animal protein,” Cooke said. “Farmers work closely with world-renowned scientists from academia, government, and the private sector to develop rigorous standards and implement best practices for fish health and environmental protection.”

In 2017, a net pen operated by Cooke off Cypress Island, near the San Juan archipelago, collapsed and released 260,000 nonnative Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound. The escape prompted a frantic response by the Lummi Indian tribe , which mobilized its fishing crews to capture tens of thousands of the Atlantic salmon before they could intermingle or breed with native salmon.

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