Jefferson County drafting net-pen guidelines

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The shoreline management program for Jefferson County came a step closer to ratification Monday as the county moved toward developing a conditional use permit process for finfish aquaculture.

The county commissioners instructed Department of Community Development staff to implement modifications the finfish portions of the management plan, clearing the way for a shoreline program update that first was sent to the state in November 2010.

The Department of Ecology approved most of it in February 2011, except for a proposed ban on finfish aquaculture, which raises non-native species, such as Atlantic salmon, in pens.

Since that time, the commissioners worked toward developing a conditional-use process that limits the location and scope of potential net-pen businesses because the state Department of Ecology said counties lack the authority to ban the industry outright — which commissioners sought to do.

“I’m happy with our progress here, but we are being put in a position of having to allow net pens in Jefferson County, which I oppose,” said Commissioner Phil Johnson afterwards.

“But it’s better for us to create our own conditional use rather than allowing Ecology to make the decision for us. If we don’t come up with our own plan, Ecology can impose their own regulations,” Johnson said.

The permits have several requirements, including the presence of a disaster plan should the farmed fish develop a disease that requires quarantine, as well as insurance coverage that will pay for any damages.

Community Development staff now will assimilate the revised net-pen section into other parts of the shoreline program that already has met Ecology’s approval.

That draft will be presented at the March 25 commissioners’ meeting.

If approved, a three-week public comment period would begin that will include one public hearing.

“This is only a piece of the full package,” said Planning Manager Stacie Hoskins.

“The commissioners need to look at this one more time before they put it together for public review.”

The latest draft of the policy contains 21 potential requirements for net pens, including requiring a genetic similarity between farmed and native fish, controlling the odor and regulating the lighting used in a fish-farming operation.

While strictly governing the process itself, the plan imposes geographic restrictions on where a fish farm could locate in Jefferson County waters.

There are four areas where net pens could be constructed in the Port Townsend area, while a 20-square-mile area northwest of Port Townsend and extending to the San Juan County nautical border also could house the facilities, according to the proposal.

There are currently no active applications for net-pen construction, and none has been received for several years according to shoreline management program update Project Manager Michelle McConnell.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: March 11. 2013 6:07PM
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