Cooke Aquaculture files appeal of DNR decision

OLYMPIA — Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, LLC has filed an appeal of the state Department of Natural Resources’ denial of its leases for steelhead farms in state waters.

The appeal was filed on Wednesday in Thurston County Superior Court.

The appeal also accuses DNR of a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing and violation of due process, saying it was politically motivated.

It asks for injunctive relief and damages.

Notices in November that DNR would not renew two rainbow trout farming leases located at Rich Passage and Hope Island in Puget Sound “arbitrarily and unreasonably demanded that Cooke harvest all fish and remove all farm equipment from the sites within 30 days,” according to a press release.

“The lease application denials were the culmination of Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s five-year quest to ‘bury’ Cooke and destroy aquaculture in Washington,” said Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture Inc., in the release.

DNR’s refusal to renew Cooke’s leases was “punitive, arbitrary, and contrary to extensive scientific research completed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, DNR’s sister agency that has primary responsibility to ensure the health of wild fish stocks in Washington,” Richardson said.

“WDFW’s research concluded that farming of rainbow trout in Washington waters, as proposed by Cooke, would not have probable significant adverse impacts to the environment, and those conclusions were unanimously affirmed by the Washington Supreme Court in January of this year.”

In 2019, Cooke entered into an agreement with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to raise native female steelhead trout in Port Angeles Harbor.

While announcing the DNR decision about Cooke’s farms at Rich Passage and Hope Island, Franz, Department of Natural Resources commissioner of public lands, said: “We’re here today because of a stark truth: salmon are in danger of going extinct.”

“It is our true intent that Washington’s publicly owned waters will be free from net pen fish farming forever,” she said.

Tribal Chairman/CEO Ron W. Allen had said the tribe would investigate alternate action to save the project.

“We need to see what we can do to preserve the industry in the Salish Sea,” Allen said in November.

“It’s a bad call. (Franz) is wrong on the science.

“From our perspective, it’s a political decision not a science-based decision.”

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