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State provides new guidance for commercial marine fish net pens

After a multi-year effort to improve how commercial marine finfish net pens are managed in Washington, the state has adopted new guidance for facilities operating in Puget Sound.

To manage risk, the guidance identifies specific practices and safeguards industry should follow to reduce fish escapes and avoid adverse impacts to critical and sensitive habitat, fish and fish health, shellfish, water quality, and wildlife.

The state departments of AgricultureEcologyFish and Wildlife and Natural Resources jointly developed the guidance. The four agencies have permitting, leasing, or regulatory roles overseeing marine net pen aquaculture.

A net pen in Puget Sound. Courtesy Washington Dept. of Natural Resources.

The agencies collected the latest science, data, and information about current risks and best practices to inform state and local oversight of Puget Sound net pens. Public feedback was also incorporated. The guidance is designed for:

  • Existing commercial net pen operations
  • Local and state agencies responsible for authorizing new and continued net pen operations
  • New net pen projects

The guidance describes the existing legal framework for net pen aquaculture, clarifies how agencies collaborate, and offers best management practices necessary to regulate commercial net pen aquaculture in Washington. The document also provides recommendations for the Washington Legislature to consider:

  • Funding fish health, pathogen, genetic, and ecological risk management and regulatory actions
  • Funding a study to examine the minimum standard technology net pens should use to further reduce impacts to Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca
  • Funding research to fill data gaps and better inform net pen management
  • Supporting state agencies in their efforts to complete a future inter-agency report assessing the use of the guidance and implementing its best management practices

For more information on the process to develop the State guidance for commercial marine net pen aquaculture, visit our Guidance webpage.

Background

Following the August 2017 collapse of an array of net pens off Cypress Island in Skagit County that released about 250,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, the Legislature enacted a law prohibiting state agencies from issuing new permits or leases for farms raising non-native fish. State lawmakers also directed agencies to update the state’s net pen guidance. Signed by Gov. Inslee, the measure effectively ended Atlantic salmon net-pen operations in state waters by 2022.

There are four commercial net pen facilities in Puget Sound permitted to raise native all-female, sterile steelhead trout. For more information on permitting commercial net pens in Washington, visit Ecology's website.