PORT ANGELES — Atlantic salmon raised in new fish farms became even more unwelcome Monday in waters off Clallam County.
County commissioners at their work session Monday added another wall to keep companies from building new facilities that grow the salmon and other non-native species.
The interim ban, similar to Island County’s and in line with the direction state lawmakers are headed, will be imposed as part of a state-mandated update to the county shoreline development master program that commissioners’ Chairman Mark Ozias said he hopes will be completed by March 31.
“I think that’s really straightforward, and makes clear the rules,” said Ozias, the Sequim-area District 1 commissioner, adding that county commissioners can change the prohibition depending on the direction of state regulations.
The temporary measure will be in place at least until county commissioners conduct a 2020 review of the shoreline regulations.
The board’s move dittoed the recommendation of the county Department of Community Development as presented by Planning Manager Steve Grey.
The commissioners rejected options they had considered at the Jan. 29 work session that called for drafting standards and conditional-use-permit requirements for new fish-farm applications or imposing an outright prohibition.
The interim ban imposes another roadblock on the facilities in addition to one already established on the state level.
Gov. Jay Inslee and Department of Natural Resources’ Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, whose agency manages aquatic leases for fish farms, last year established a moratorium on new and pending fish-farm applications.
Their joint edict followed the mid-August collapse of Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s fish farm off Cypress Island and the resulting escape of hundreds of thousands of non-native fish.
The moratorium put the brakes on the company’s pending Clallam County permit for a fish farm off Port Angeles at Morse Creek that was being processed by the Department of Community Development.
Cooke wanted to build it to replace its existing fish farm off Ediz Hook.
The facility has been slated to shut down by July, when a pier for Navy submarine escort vessels is scheduled to begin operation near the company’s existing net pens.
Cooke spokesman Joel Richardson did not return an email Monday afternoon requesting comment on the status of the Ediz Hook facility.
The commissioners’ action also comes in the wake of pending legislation in the state House and Senate to prohibit or limit net-pen facilities off the state’s shoreline.
The state Senate last week passed and sent to the House a bill that would end Atlantic salmon net-pen farming by 2025.
Michelle McConnell, an environmental planner with the state Department of Ecology who attended Monday’s meeting, told commissioners that they should proceed with their shoreline program update without waiting for state lawmakers to act.
“We are looking for you guys to wrap it up as soon as possible,” she said.
“Don’t rely too much on the unknowns.”
McConnell said after the meeting that commissioners will have to revisit the ban during their periodic review of the shoreline plan in 2020 anyway.
The temporary prohibition “seems like a reasonable choice,” she added.
“Things are changing daily, especially with the [legislative] piece.”
Ozias said after the meeting that the commissioners received “overwhelming” comments from residents and organizations opposed to fish farming.
“Based on the discussion, based on the direction the state Legislature is headed, based on what we heard from citizens, I think this is what is right for Clallam County,” Ozias said.
The commissioners were unified behind the interim ban, he added.
“I have not heard anything that would lead me to think otherwise,” Ozias said.
Commissioner Randy Johnson, who represents Port Angeles-area District 2, said after the meeting that the interim ban is largely irrelevant because the state Legislature will likely take action banning the facilities.
“It’s not something I think the whole world is going to live and die by,” he said of the board’s action.
“The reason I don’t think it’s a big deal, I think it’s a moot point,” he said.
Johnson said he remains wary of introducing exotic species such as Atlantic salmon into the ecosystem.
“Exotic species of any variety is something that one has to take a good, close look at,” he said.
“They have the potential to harm the environment.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].