Cantwell, Murray: Agencies must also immediately halt permitting of new and expanding net pens

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), joined by Reps. Adam Smith (WA-09), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Rick Larsen (WA-02), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Denny Heck (WA-10), and Suzan DelBene (WA-01), wrote an urgent letter to the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to press the two agencies to take quick and decisive action to address the impacts of hundreds of thousands of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Washington state waters.

Citing the importance of wild salmon fisheries to Tribes, fishermen, and ecosystems in the state, the members of Congress are calling on NOAA and the Army Corps to direct federal resources to mitigate the risks of this incident, including the capture of the escaped farmed salmon. The letter also calls on the Army Corps to work to stop all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing pens, as well as prioritize requests to update or maintain existing pens.

“Pacific salmon are central to our economy, our culture, and our environment in the Pacific Northwest, and are a critical part of marine and estuarine ecosystems in Washington state,” the members wrote. “The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Tribes, fishermen, and state agencies are working to respond to the escapement but the scale of the release calls for immediate and direct federal response…”

The farmed salmon escaped from a damaged facility owned by Cooke Aquaculture on August 19th and 20th. Since the breach, farmed Atlantic salmon have been found as far afield as Canadian waters on the West side of Vancouver Island, as well as the Skagit and Nooksack Rivers. The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Farmed salmon tend to be larger and could outcompete wild salmon for critical resources such as prey and preferred habitat, which is important for spawning.

Tribes and federal and state agencies have worked tirelessly towards restoration of wild salmon populations in Puget Sound. At a time when stocks of many types of wild Pacific salmon are at historic lows, the escape of thousands of farmed salmon could be a devastating setback.

The members also asked the agency heads to conduct a review of the integrity and operation of all currently operating net pen structures to address concerns of further accidents at existing facilities.

Text of the letter can be found below.

Dear Acting Administrator Friedman and Mr. Lamont,

We write to request the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) immediately act to minimize the impact of the Atlantic salmon net pen failure near Cypress Island in Skagit County, Washington. The released Atlantic salmon pose a threat to wild Pacific salmon, including multiple endangered and threatened stocks in the region. Tribes, along with federal and state agencies have worked tirelessly to restore wild salmon in Puget Sound and the escapement of thousands of farmed salmon could be a devastating setback.

Pacific salmon are central to our economy, our culture, and our environment in the Pacific Northwest, and are a critical part of marine and estuarine ecosystems in Washington state. Pacific salmon support treaty rights for Tribes throughout the region, commercial and recreational fishers, as well as predators like the endangered Southern resident orcas. On August 19th, potentially hundreds of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon were released into the Puget Sound ecosystem due to the structural failure of a net pen. While the fish farm facility was permitted under Washington state law, the escapement may negatively impact resources under the jurisdiction of NOAA, the Army Corps, and other federal agencies. Most concerning is the threat farmed Atlantic salmon pose to the wild Pacific salmon populations stocks in Puget Sound. Farmed salmon tend to be larger and could outcompete wild salmon for critical resources such as prey and preferred habitat, which is important for spawning.

Tribes, fishermen, and state agencies are working to respond to the escapement but the scale of the release calls for immediate and direct federal response including mitigation, scientific support, and funding to improve response and capture of the released Atlantic salmon. Further, as other net pens remain in our waters, we request the Army Corps halt all permitting for new net pens or expansions to existing net pens, while prioritizing permit requests to upgrade and maintain existing net pens. In addition, we ask NOAA and the Army Corps to review the integrity and operation of all existing net pen structures to determine any additional threats to wild salmon in the area and prevent any further escapement of farmed salmon into our waters.

We appreciate your ongoing work to restore Pacific salmon in Puget Sound and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

 

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