PORT ANGELES — Cooke Aquaculture, which shut down its Ediz Hook fish farm in May, wants to begin raising steelhead instead of Atlantic salmon in its net pens in Washington state, a company official said Monday.
The company also has sites at Bainbridge Island, Hope Island, Clam Bay and Orchard Rocks.
“All of our sites would be in the mix,” Cooke spokesman Joel Richardson said, adding that the facility shutdown in Port Angeles remains in litigation in Thurston County Superior Court.
“We’re working with the state on what the transition would look like and how permitting would work,” Richardson said.
“It’s a species currently farmed in hatcheries and raised in net pens in Washington now, so it’s a species native to the Pacific Northwest now.”
Richardson told www.fishfarmingexpert.com that Cooke has reduced the Atlantic salmon at three of its Washington state sites from 3.5 million to 800,000.
“From the time that those sites are harvested and vacated, we would fallow them for a time and then transition towards farming steelhead.”
The Canadian company expects to use an existing hatchery for steelhead.
“We would be using the same type of species that the state currently stocks,” Richardson said.
Cooke Aquaculture and the We’koqma’q First Nation in Nova Scotia, Canada, announced Monday a partnership on the sale and marketing of Bras d’Or Lakes farm-raised steelhead.
“The Cooke family business shares our belief that aquaculture can be developed in a manner that protects and preserves the environment for future generations,” We’koqma’q First Nation Chief Rod Googoo said in a press release from the tribe.
Citing pending litigation against the state Department of Natural Resources, Richardson would not comment on if and when the Ediz Hook pens would be dismantled and how many people were left unemployed by the shutdown.
The Ediz Hook facility, which at one time was raising 690,000 fish, was due to be shut down by June 30 after the state Department of Natural Resources terminated Cooke’s aquatic lands lease.
Its removal was a treaty-rights mitigation measure agreed to in a memorandum of agreement with area tribes to allow construction of the Navy’s 425-foot submarine escort pier at the Coast Guard station at Ediz Hook, the Navy said in September 2017, a year before the pier began operations.
The pier was to extend 40 feet into the net pen laydown area.
Cooke had planned to build new pens 4 miles east of Ediz Hook at Morse Creek, but those plans were shelved after the August 2017 collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island net pen facility, resulting in the escape of 250,000 non-native fish into Puget Sound and Cooke’s payment of a $332,000 fine.
Richardson also would not comment on whether the company would try to raise steelhead at another site in Port Angeles.
The company had submitted an application to Clallam County Department of Community Development to build a fish farm off Morse Creek that was shelved after the Cypress Island incident.
DCD project manager Greg Ballard said Monday the company would have to submit a new application if steelhead instead of salmon were grown off Morse Creek.
Ballard said concerns would include fish escaping from the facility, the breeding of native with non-native steelhead, and the transmission of diseases from farmed to native steelhead.
The state Legislature voted in 2018 to end state leases and permits for operations that grow non-native finfish in state waters by 2022.
Cooke had its 10-year Ediz Hook aquatic lands lease terminated in December 2017 for violations including discharge of styrofoam, not addressing anchor defects and operating outside its leasehold area.
Because Cooke stocked its Port Angeles fish pens shortly before the lease termination, the DNR allowed the company to continue farming fish until June 30, Department of Ecology spokeswoman Colleen Keltz said Friday in an email, adding that Cooke had emptied its Ediz Hook net pens by May.
Cooke sued DNR over the lease in an ongoing lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court.
Thurston County Clerk Linda Myhre Enlow said Monday that lawyers for DNR and Cooke recently turned in their scheduling questionnaires for upcoming legal proceedings on the case, including the anticipated length of a bench trial or hearing and when the lawyers are available for proceedings.
Ecology announced Thursday updated permits for Cooke’s one pen near Hope Island and three in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island.
Ecology had to update the permits or the facilities could continue to operate under outdated permits through 2022, the agency said in a press release.
The improvements include increased underwater video monitoring, regular inspections to assess the pens’ structural integrity, improved maintenance and net cleaning, and site-specific response plans for fish breaches.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].