Hearing on new Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm in Strait postponed

PORT ANGELES — The release Aug. 19 of thousands of Atlantic salmon from Cooke Aquaculture’s Cypress Island fish farm has plugged up Cooke’s proposal to build a $9 million fish farm off Port Angeles.

Clallam County officials have indefinitely postponed an upcoming hearing on the net-pen project 1.8 miles north of Morse Creek after Cooke officials Monday requested the delay, Steve Gray, planning manager for the county Department of Community Development, said Monday.

A county hearing examiner hearing on Cooke’s shoreline permit for the new net pens, which would be spread over 9.7 acres, was scheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 7 at the county courthouse.

Kevin Bright, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific permit coordinator, made the request in a 4:39 p.m. Monday email to Gray.

“In light of the recent unfortunate event that occurred at our Cypress Island Site 2 facility, we would like to request that the upcoming hearing for the PA-East facility be postponed at this time to allow us to focus on the emergency response effort and for us to work with you to evaluate next steps with respect to our permit applications,” Bright said in the email.

The Sept. 7 hearing would be held under the state Environmental Policy Act.

Clallam County officials are reevaluating their judgment that Cooke Aquaculture’s proposed Atlantic salmon farm off Port Angeles would not seriously harm the environment, Gray said.

Gray said he is taking a new look at his agency’s preliminary mitigated determination of nonsignificance, issued under the state Environmental Policy Act, in light of the Aug. 19 collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island net pens, and may withdraw that determination.

The net-pen breach was followed by a moratorium on state permits for new salmon farms that Gov. Jay Inslee announced Saturday in concert with an investigation into the incident, a stoppage Gray said will factor in the reevaluation.

The net pens contained an estimated 305,000 salmon. Some of the escaped fish the Peninsula Daily News reported Sunday were caught off Sekiu and, according to social media accounts, Port Townsend.

“Certainly, we will be looking at our SEPA determination [of nonsignificance] in light of this incident, certainly related to fish escape and how these facilities are secured an moored,” Gray said.

Cooke’s $9 million project is intended to replace Cooke net pens off Ediz Hook.

The farm must be removed to make way for the nearby construction of a 425-foot pier and trestle at the U.S. Coast Guard base at the Hook, where up to seven escort vessels for Navy submarines will berth.

The new project would include 14 floating circular net pens of 126 feet in diameter.

They would be deployed over 9.7 acres and be complemented by a 100-foot barge holding up to 350 tons of fish feed.

Farmed salmon production off Morse Creek would increase by 20 percent over the Ediz Hook facility, according to the proposal.

The project would require 10 authorizations or permits from the state Department of Natural Resources, state Department of Ecology, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The state’s ongoing investigation into the Cypress Island incident will prevent any state permits from being issued, Ecology spokeswoman Jessie Payne confirmed Monday.

“The moratorium would cover the new net pen that would be based off Morse Creek,” Payne said.

The release of the salmon at Cypress Island “created an emergency,” Inslee said Saturday in declaring the moratorium.

“Tribes and others who fish Washington waters deserve a comprehensive response to this incident, including answers to what happened and assurances that it won’t happen again,” Inslee said in his prepared statement.

The new project is structurally different than the Ediz Hook fish farm, DCD Project Manager Greg Ballard said in a report on the project.

“Based on the new location of the net pen operation in open water with increased wave exposure, the marina-style net pen configuration that exists at Ediz Hook is no longer feasible,” Ballard wrote.

The new facility would have cages built with heavy-walled plastic pipes.

“These circular cages are specifically engineered for use in high-energy shore locations where waves can reach over 30 feet in height during storm events,” Ballard wrote.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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