OLYMPIA – The Washington state Department of Ecology is taking action to strengthen the water quality permits for existing Atlantic salmon farming operations in Puget Sound. Farming Atlantic salmon in net pens is officially banned from Puget Sound starting in 2022. Until then, these operations must protect Puget Sound’s water. Ecology is using the investigation from the 2017 Cypress Island net pen collapse to mandate more protective permit requirements.
Cooke Aquaculture, the only company farming Atlantic salmon in Washington, has applied to renew its water quality permits for four existing net pen operations. Cooke is required to have updated National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for its operations near Hope Island and in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island.
The Legislature determined earlier this year that farming non-native fish, such as Atlantic salmon, in Washington’s marine waters would be phased out starting in 2022 as part of House Bill 2597. This means Cooke is allowed to continue with Atlantic salmon farming until 2022. Cooke leases the area for its operations from the Department of Natural Resources.
“We must protect our waters and native salmon from another disastrous collapse,” said Maia Bellon, Director of Ecology. “Until Atlantic salmon farming ends in Washington’s waters, we are requiring these companies to operate under the strongest water quality protections we can put in place.”
Additional protective measures include:
Increasing underwater video monitoring of net pens
Conducting inspections to assess structural integrity of the net pens and submit inspection reports certified by a qualified marine engineer to Ecology
Improving net cleaning and maintenance procedures to prevent fish escape
Requiring the permittee to develop site specific response plans in the event of a fish release, and to conduct and participate in preparedness trainings
Requiring improved maintenance of the net pens
Maintaining contact information to notify area tribes in the event of a fish release
Ecology is accepting comment on the permits for 60 days, with details on how to comment available online. The comment period will include three public hearings. Each hearing will start with an informational public meeting, followed by an opportunity to provide comments:
· Wednesday, January 30 at 1 p.m. by webinar
· Tuesday, February 5 at 6 p.m. 1220 10th St. Anacortes
· Thursday, February 7 at 6 p.m. 7566 High School Rd. NE. Bainbridge Island
Ecology will make a final decision on the permits after they review and prepare responses to the public comments.
Information on the draft permits is available at: https://ecology.wa.gov/netpenpermit.
Information on the Cypress Island net pen failure and investigation is available at: https://www.dnr.wa.gov/atlanticsalmon.