Legislature phases out Atlantic salmon farming

By Phuong Le

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — The state Legislature has voted to phase out marine Atlantic salmon aquaculture, an industry that has operated for decades in the state but which came under heavy criticism after tens of thousands of nonnative fish escaped into waterways last summer.

After lengthy debate, the Senate passed the bill on a 31-16 vote Friday. The House earlier passed HB 2957 — which was introduced by Rep. Kristine Lytton, D- Anacortes —on 67-31 vote. District 24 legislator Mike Chapman, D- Port Angeles, was a sponsor of the bill.

It now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who has expressed support.

The bill would end state leases and permits for operations that grow nonnative finfish in state waters when current leases expire in 2022.

The bill targets Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, the largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon in the U.S., whose net pens in northwest Washington collapsed Aug. 19. Cooke currently has two leases with the state. The company had filed a lawsuit saying that Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz had no basis to terminate its 10-year lease in Port Angeles Harbor on Dec. 15.

State officials last month blamed Cooke’s negligence for failing to maintain its net pens. They said the escape of the salmon put the state’s ecosystem at risk and fined the company $332,000. Up to 263,000 invasive Atlantic salmon escaped into Puget Sound, raising fears about the impact to native Pacific salmon runs.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat who sponsored similar legislation in the Senate, said the “state ban is a strong stance to ensure the protection of our marine environment and native salmon populations.”

Joel Richardson, vice-president of Cooke, said in a statement that the company was “deeply disappointed” with the bill’s passage, the potential impact on the industry and “more than 600 rural workers and their families that rely upon salmon farming for their livelihoods.”

He said the company will evaluate its operations and investments in the state and ensure that whatever decision they make puts families and workers first.

Richardson told lawmakers last month that Cooke would be able to seek damages under a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement if the measure passed. He said the bill would strip the Canada-based company of its $76 million investment in the state in an unfair way. He did not address that issue in his statement Friday.

Sen. Judy Warnick, a Republican, said “we are putting an industry out of business.”

Other Republicans who opposed the bill said it would put people out of work, shut down a vital industry and set a bad precedent.

“This is the wrong action tonight and I’m just appalled that this is the direction we’re going,” said Sen. Shelly Short, a Republican.

Republicans introduced numerous amendments that were rejected, including proposals to allow growing native fish or single-sex Atlantic salmon in net pens and a tax incentive package to help the industry transition to other operations.

Atlantic salmon farming has been in the state since the 1980s but remains controversial in the Northwest, famed for its native Pacific salmon runs and where tens of millions of dollars are spent each year to bring back declining populations of wild Pacific salmon stock.

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