House passes version of net pen phase-out legislation

OLYMPIA — House lawmakers have passed a water-down version of a bill approved earlier this month by the Senate which would phase out Atlantic salmon net-pen farming.

The Senate bill ends net-pen farming of Atlantic salmon as leases to operate the farms from the state Department of Natural Resources expire. The last of those leases expires in 2025. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Kevin De Wege, a Democrat from Sequim.

While the House bill — EHB 2957 — says the Legislature intends a phaseout, it also says it intends to revisit the issue “once additional research becomes available,” according to to The Seattle Times.

It requires study of the industry to be concluded with a report to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2019, The Seattle Times said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. The bill passed the House 67-31.

Action in both chambers was triggered by the escape of thousands of Atlantic salmon from Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon farm at Cypress Island last August.

A state investigation found that the escape was caused by Cooke’s negligence in inadequately maintaining the fish farm and said that Cooke misled the public and state agencies about the cause and gravity of the escape.

Cooke’s leases have been terminated at Port Angeles and four other places because of violations revealed in inspections by the state Department of Natural Resources directed by Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, after the August escape.

Cooke, based in Canada, bought its farms in Washington state in 2016 to expand its operations to the U.S. West Coast.

The company has opposed the phase out, defending 181 jobs in Washington associated with the farms.

The House bill also requires net pens to be inspected at least every two years at the company’s expense and provides financial assistance to any dislocated workers, The Seattle Times said.

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