By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is sponsoring HB 1599, which would allow county governments to include outright bans of net pen fish-farming facilities proposed for shoreline areas in their state-required shoreline management plan updates.
Jefferson County commissioners David Sullivan and Phil Johnson spoke in favor of the bill.
Net pen aquaculture is the raising of fish, usually Atlantic salmon, in pens along shorelines.
Washington state has nine such facilities, including an American Gold Seafoods facility in Port Angeles, according to the state Department of Ecology.
HB 1599 received a public hearing at a Friday meeting of the House Local Government Committee, and Van De Wege thinks testimony against the bill from Ecology and representatives of the net pen aquaculture industry means it may be a challenge to get his bill passed in the House.
“The fish farm [representatives] and Ecology are going to fight hard against it,” Van De Wege said. “It has an uphill battle.”
State Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, has introduced a companion Senate bill that was referred to the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee Feb. 6, but it has not been scheduled for a hearing.
Van De Wege and Hargrove, along with State Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, represent the 24th Legislative District, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.
At the hearing, Van De Wege said his bill is not about whether net pen farming is good or bad but about local jurisdictions having control over their own shorelines.
In a later interview, he said Ecology's point at the hearing was that SMPs are not designed to ban specific water-dependent uses, such as net pen farming.
Zachary Hiatt, a Seattle attorney representing statewide net pen farm operator American Gold Seafoods, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that net pen facilities already are highly regulated by the state to ensure they do not hurt surrounding waters.
“Our state environmental regulators have looked at these issues repeatedly, and they've determined these environmental impacts do not warrant banning net pens in Puget Sound's waters,” Hiatt said.
Jefferson County commissioner Johnson, however, raised concerns about the potential negative environmental effects of net pen farming, and Sullivan made the point that fish farming does not necessarily have to be a water-dependent use but could instead be accomplished in upland areas.
“Technology is allowing us to move away from a water-dependent situation with fish farming to a water-independent one,” Sullivan said at the hearing.
Jefferson County's shoreline management program update has been on hold for two years while county officials negotiate with Ecology.
Jefferson County officials want to ban net pen farming, while Ecology, which regulates such facilities statewide, has said they do not have the right to do so.
The bill's other supporters at the hearing included an environmental advocacy group based on Whidbey Island and the Washington State Association of Counties.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.