PORT ANGELES — Public interest in Cooke Aquaculture’s plans to farm rainbow trout-steelhead in Puget Sound has prompted a three-week extension of the comment period on the proposal.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife had received 2,400 comments on the plan as of Thursday afternoon, Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Ben Anderson said.
The permit that state Fish and Wildlife has already preliminarily said will not significantly affect the environment would allow the Canadian company to raise the sterile female fish in Cooke’s existing marine-net pens at Ford Ward, Orchard Rocks, Clam Bay and Hope Island.
The permit would be extended to Cooke’s Cypress Island net pens and its dormant Ediz Hook, Port Angeles Harbor facility, where sablefish also may be raised, if Cooke receives new leases or has terminated agreements restored.
Fish and Wildlife first lengthened the comment period from Oct. 22 to today, then on Wednesday announced a 5 p.m. Nov. 22 deadline.
“We received a lot of stakeholder feedback that people wanted that time, that folks were interested in having more time to review [the proposal].”
WDFW Director Kelly Susewind acknowledged in a prepared statement “significant public interest” in the proposal.
“We want to provide stakeholders with the best opportunity to make their voices heard in this process,” Susewind said.
Fish and Wildlife issued a mitigated determination of nonsignificance Oct. 1 for the proposal, listed as State Environmental Policy Act [Permit] No. 19056, where public comments can be submitted.
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen said Thursday the tribe remains in advancing talks with Cooke on a joint venture to restart the Canadian company’s fish farm in Port Angeles.
“We are sorting out the final details of the mutual agreement,” he said.
Allen said the tribe is providing documents on the joint venture to the state Department of Ecology.
“They have additional questions they want answered,” he said.
The company and tribe announced Oct. 5 their plans to raise black cod and rainbow trout-steelhead in Cooke’s empty Ediz Hook pens, where Cooke had raised Atlantic salmon.
Kurt Grinnell, Jamestown Seafood company CEO and a tribal council member, said Thursday that Ecology’s review of the water quality permit for the fish farm could take six months.
“There will be more comment on that, so this will be around for a while,” Grinnell said.
Ecology water-quality program spokesperson Colleen Keltz said a new permit is required because Cooke wants to grow a new species in the pens.
Ecology needs more information on fish feed and medications that can become pollutants and a plan for if fish escape the enclosures at the four facilities in the permit application, she said.
The Port Angeles pens can hold 600,000 fish, producing waste that must be dealt with, Grinnell said.
Grinnell said fish waste dissipates in the water column and “is drifted off,” but that impacts are still anticipated, comparing fish farming to growing food on land or the environmental results of raising cattle and pigs.
The tribe is experimenting with sea cucumbers that would be placed in the fish pens to eat the waste, a program already in use at tribal hatcheries.
Kelp or seaweed also may be grown around the fish farm to offset the impacts of ammonia, Grinnell said.
“It’s all about sustainability,” he said. “We know there will be some impacts, and we are trying to offset those as much as possible.”
But Keltz said a water quality permit for a Port Angeles rainbow trout-steelhead fish farm will not be considered until Cooke has a new aquatic-lands lease agreement with the Department of Natural Resources.
DNR terminated a lease agreement with Cooke Dec. 15, 2017, over violations that included an unsafe anchoring system and Styrofoam pollution of the harbor.
Cooke appealed the decision in a Clallam County Superior Court case that had its venue changed to Thurston County Superior Court.
An Oct. 4 administrative law review hearing was continued to Feb. 7 after a Cooke lawyer said the company was not ready to proceed with the hearing, a court spokesperson said Thursday.
Grinnell said the tribe also wants to raise sablefish in the Port Angeles fish pens, which will still have to be considered for approval.
Cooke spokesperson Joel Richardson would not comment Thursday on the case or on the comment-period extension.
“We are following the process the state has laid out and we look forward to hearing [and] seeing the public comment,” Richardson said.
“There are a variety of investments we hope to make in the state with additional equipment and things like that in partnership with Jamestown.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].