State taking comment on permits for Atlantic salmon fish farms

OLYMPIA — The state Department of Ecology is taking comment now on permits for four Cooke Aquaculture Atlantic salmon farms — three in Kitsap County and one in Skagit Bay.

Farming Atlantic salmon in net pens is officially banned from Puget Sound starting in 2022.

Ecology is using the investigation from the 2017 Cypress Island net pen collapse to mandate more protective permit requirements.

Cooke Aquaculture, the only company farming Atlantic salmon in Washington state, lost its lease in Port Angeles in 2017.

Ecology is accepting comments on the permit through Feb. 25 and will make a final determination after reviewing them.

Information on the draft permit, and a link to comment online, is available at ecology.wa.gov/netpen permit.

Comments can be sent by mail to Rich Doenges, Washington State Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 4760, Olympia, WA 98504.

Or they can be provided in person at public hearings planned at 1 p.m. Jan. 30 in a webinar (to register go to ecology.wa.gov/netpen permit), at 6 p.m. Feb. 5 at 1220 10th St. in Anacortes, or at 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at 7566 High School Road NE in Bainbridge Island.

Cooke is required to have updated National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for its operations near Hope Island and in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island.

The state Legislature determined earlier this year that farming non-native fish, such as Atlantic salmon, in Washington’s marine waters would be phased out starting in 2022 as part of House Bill 2597.

This means Cooke is allowed to continue with Atlantic salmon farming until 2022. Cooke leases the area for its operations from the state Department of Natural Resources.

“We must protect our waters and native salmon from another disastrous collapse,” said Maia Bellon, director of Ecology. “Until Atlantic salmon farming ends in Washington’s waters, we are requiring these companies to operate under the strongest water quality protections we can put in place.”

Additional protective measures include:

• Increasing underwater video monitoring of net pens.

• Conducting inspections to assess structural integrity of the net pens and submit inspection reports certified by a qualified marine engineer to Ecology.

• Improving net cleaning and maintenance procedures to prevent fish escape.

• Requiring development of site specific response plans in the event of a fish release, and conducting preparedness training.

• Requiring improved maintenance of the net pens.

• Maintaining contact information to notify area tribes in the event of a fish release.

Information on the Cypress Island net pen failure and investigation is available at www.dnr.wa.gov/atlanticsalmon.

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