Tribe: Court of appeals ruling won’t stop fish farm attempt

Processing plant to be sought out in harbor, also

PORT ANGELES — Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen vowed Tuesday to move forward with plans to establish a fish farm in Port Angeles Harbor despite a recent state Court of Appeals decision upholding the termination of its business partner’s lease.

The three-judge panel Dec. 14 affirmed a Thurston County Superior Court decision that struck a blow to the joint plans of the tribe and Canadian aquaculture company Cooke Pacific LLC.

They wanted to use Cooke’s aquatic lands lease — terminated by the state Department of Natural Resources in 2017 — to grow sablefish, or black cod, and steelhead in a harbor fish farm.

The court upheld the DNR’s action, taken after the agency cited multiple violations, including discharge of Styrofoam, operating with a defective net-pen anchoring system, growing Atlantic salmon outside the company’s leasehold area, and defaulting on its rent.

“The court of appeals of the state of Washington decision for Port Angeles Harbor is being reviewed by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific and our joint venture partner, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe,” company spokesperson Joel Richardson said Monday in an email.

Allen said Tuesday even if Cooke appeals the decision to the state Supreme Court, and even if the lease termination is upheld again, the tribe plans to seek a permit for the fish farm — and wants to build a fish processing plant to complement the facility.

“That is essential to make the business work,” Allen said, adding he wants to work with the Port of Port Angeles on that aspect of the project.

Discussions with port officials that he described as “very preliminary” are focusing on the marina area, Allen said.

“They have a high interest in working with us,” he added.

Port Deputy Executive Director John Nutter said Tuesday that port officials have had ongoing discussions with the tribe about a potential facility for about nine months.

“That’s all it is so far,” he said, confirming the Boat Haven marina area has been the focus.

“We’ve talked about it conceptually,” Nutter added.

The project will take longer to reach fruition given the court decision and a possible appeal, Allen said.

“It depends on what Cooke does, but we are partners on this. It’s their deal; it’s their call.”

The new net pens would be west of where Cooke’s other pens were located.

“If they don’t appeal, we’ll move our application forward for a new permit. We still feel it’s legitimate. We are thrilled to do something to support the industry,” Allen said.

“We’re just going to be patient.”

The state Legislature voted in 2018 to end state leases and permits for operations that grow non-native finfish in state waters by 2022.

The Port Angeles Harbor violations were uncovered during a statewide inspection of net pens that was initiated by DNR after the collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island net pen, which released 160,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into waters west of Anacortes.

The Port Angeles fish farm comprised 14 connected, floating pens that could hold up to 700,000 salmon.

Four months after the Cypress Island failure, an inspection of the Port Angeles facility showed the structural deficiencies, the appeal court said. The lease was terminated Dec. 15, 2017.

Cooke argued that the decision was quasi-judicial rather than administrative and that the court should review DNR’s findings.

“DNR’s decision to terminate the lease was based on facts supported by substantial evidence, pursuant to plain terms of the contract, was well reasoned and made with due regard to the facts and circumstances,” the court ruled.

Cooke also had defaulted on its rent two months after the Cypress Island failure, the court said.

“DNR provided notice and an opportunity to cure regarding Cooke’s default of the rent provision on October 20, 2017,” the court said in its opinion.

“On December 9, 2017, DNR became aware of additional defaults of the lease regarding the property itself. At that point, DNR could deem one or more of the subsequent defaults an event of default. Cooke was not entitled to an opportunity to cure.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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