PORT ANGELES — The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Cooke Aquaculture Pacific LLC are still planning to float a sterile-steelhead fish farm in Port Angeles Harbor despite the site having been left off the Canadian company’s pending list of aquaculture-related permits, tribal and company officials said this week.
A lease application for fish pens, which would be located west of the former site of Cooke’s Atlantic salmon farm off Ediz Hook, will be submitted to the state Department of Natural Resources within the next two weeks, Jamestown Seafood CEO Kurt Grinnell predicted Thursday.
Grinnell, a tribal council member, said the $12 million facility could be in operation by 2022.
He said it would be built farther away from a U.S. Navy submarine escort dock whose operations had conflicted with the salmon fish farm.
Those pens were removed after DNR terminated Cooke’s lease in December 2017, blaming Styrofoam discharges, a defective anchoring system and operations that were occurring 500 feet outside the leasehold area.
Cooke countered that the Styrofoam had been contained and anchors were being replaced.
Alleging there was no basis for termination, Cooke filed a lawsuit against DNR in January 2018 in Clallam County Superior Court that was moved to Thurston County Superior Court, closer to DNR headquarters in Olympia.
Proceedings have been delayed by COVID-19-related restrictions.
Atlantic salmon farms were banned in 2018 following the collapse of Cooke’s facility at Cypress Island in Rosario Strait north of Anacortes. The breach released an estimated 250,000 fish into Puget Sound.
The ban on non-native farmed fish species goes into effect in 2022.
Steelhead are native to Washington waters.
Last week, the state Department of Ecology announced a public comment period ending Oct. 26 for updated water quality permits that Cooke requested to raise the steelhead, or anadromous rainbow trout, at four facilities at Hope Island in Skagit Bay and Rich Passage in Kitsap County.
Last October, the tribe and Cooke announced the joint fish-farm venture that will soon apply for an aquatic lands lease.
Cooke spokesman Joel Richardson said in an email last week that those efforts are ongoing.
“We are working with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to establish trout aquaculture operations in Port Angeles Harbor which will require investment in new equipment and technology while supporting local jobs,” he said.
Tribal Chairman Ron Allen said Thursday the tribe and Cooke have been in close touch with DNR and Ecology on a permit application.
“I don’t know when it will be, but they know it’s coming,” he said.
Obtaining the lease could be complicated by ongoing litigation between Cooke and DNR.
Tribal officials said last October in announcing the partnership that they are seeking reinstatement of Cooke’s former lease “in exchange for significant investment by the venture in new infrastructure and local jobs in the area.”
DNR aquatic lands spokesman Joe Smillie said Thursday that the agency has discussed a potential sterile-steelhead net-pen lease with tribal officials.
Grinnell said ecological and other concerns over fish farms should not be an issue.
“It’s a natural stock, so there’s no longer an issue of non-native salmon, which are no longer legal,” he said.
“The technology and integrity of the pens are better than ever.
“The steelhead are sterile steelhead, and they can’t breed.”
Grinnell said the Colville Tribe is successfully raising steelhead.
“There’s lots of permitting to do,” Grinnell added.
Allyson Brekke, director of the Port Angeles department of community and economic development, said Thursday she was unaware of the proposal.
“If a development is proposed within the city’s shoreline jurisdiction, then yes, a shoreline review would occur,” she said in a text message.
“I’m not comfortable saying what type of review until I see a proposal.”
State authority over the four proposed sterile-steelhead farms is held in part by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which regulates the ecological impacts of marine aquaculture to prevent disease in wild stocks, Ecology said in a prepared statement on Cooke’s water quality permit application.
Ecology protects water quality through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, while DNR manages the aquatic lands leases.
Ecology has determined that switching species will not change potential impacts on water quality but has added requirements that include clarifying that net-pen fish cannot be released, according to the statement.
Requirements were added on notifying state agencies “of events that could potentially lead to fish escape,” Ecology said.
Additional measures include increased monitoring and reporting of fish escape during stocking and harvesting, monthly reporting of fish feed consumption and additional details on net maintenance.
Cooke also would be required “to study new technologies and propose alternatives that reduce waste from feed,” Ecology said.
Grinnell is familiar with opposition to fish farming.
“We feel there is a middle ground with aquaculture, whether we are raising finfish or shellfish or macroalgae [seaweeds],” he said.
“We feel there is a way of producing clean, sustainable protein.”
The key is using “best practices,” he said, adding that most seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported.
“We feel this will take pressure off of our wild stock, that we can produce fish or shellfish that we can get to the consumer and our own tribe of people,” Grinnell said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].