Tribe in partnership with Cooke Aquaculture, eyeing steelhead fish farm in Port Angeles Harbor

PORT ANGELES — The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Cooke Aquaculture Pacific LLC are teaming up to restart a dormant fish farm in Port Angeles Harbor despite Cooke’s lawsuit against the state agency that leases the site.

The tribe and Canadian company announced the joint fish-farm venture to rear black cod and sterile all-female rainbow trout-steelhead in a press release issued Thursday.

“The venture will require reinstatement of the farm lease at Port Angeles, in exchange for significant investment by the venture in new infrastructure and local jobs in the area,” according to the statement issued by the tribe.

The tribe has an oyster and clam seed aquaculture operation at John Wayne Marina in Sequim.

“We firmly believe we can implement net pen aquaculture consistent with our tribal heritage and cultural values,” the tribe’s release said.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Cooke on Tuesday and is taking comment through Oct. 22.

Information can be found and comments can be submitted at tinyurl.com/PDN-Joint Venture.

The permit would allow the company to raise the fish for five years in existing marine net-pens in Puget Sound at Fort Ward, Orchard Rocks, Clam Bay and Hope Island.

The permit would be extended to Cooke’s Ediz Hook, Port Angeles facility and Cypress Island net pens if the company receives new leases or the terminated leases are restored.

The Port Angeles facility can hold 600,000 fish.

According to information provided by Fish and Wildlife on the permit in “Attachment B” at tinyurl.com/PDN-JointVenture, “there are no plans to plant fish at the Port Angeles or Cypress Island sites until there is further certainty in their legal status.”

DNR terminated Cooke’s aquatic lands lease off Ediz Hook on Dec. 15, 2017, after determining the fish pens were 500 feet outside of their authorized boundaries.

DNR said the company also deployed an unsafe anchoring system and was releasing Styrofoam, which contains cancer-causing styrene, into Port Angeles Harbor.

By the time the lease was terminated, Cooke said, the company had addressed the issues.

“Cooke Aquaculture Pacific is working with the Department of Natural Resources to resolve the state-owned Aquatic Land Lease issues with the Cypress Island net pen and the Port Angels net pen facilities,” according to a State Environmental Policy Act Checklist on the Fish and Wildlife website.

The checklist was prepared by Cooke’s permit coordinator.

“If the situation is resolved, these net pen sites would also be transitioned to native species aquaculture,” the site said.

DNR spokesperson Carlo Davis said Friday that Cooke was not working with DNR on resolving lease issues.

“We realize the tribe and Cooke have an interest in getting a new lease at the site, but we are not involved in those discussions,” Davis said.

“That’s a very different thing than DNR working with them in getting a new lease.

“Cooke does not have a lease, and the tribe does not have a lease, and there have been no serious conversations about that with DNR.

“Both those [Port Angeles and Cypress Island] sites are terminated, and they remain terminated, and that is the current state of it,” Davis said.

He said a hearing is set for January in Thurston County Superior Court on Cooke’s lawsuit against DNR challenging the Port Angeles Harbor lease termination.

“We are quite literally in court defending our terminating of their lease as we speak,” Davis said.

State agencies including DNR are involved in the application, “but if you don’t have a lease with DNR, it doesn’t matter,” Davis said.

“That’s the key piece.”

Ron Allen, tribal chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said Friday of the Port Angeles project that the tribe has “50-50 ownership in this and any other project we decide to consider” with Cooke.

Allen said he could not assign a monetary value to the transaction; nonetheless he called it “substantial.”

He said the tribe is “taking the lead” on getting a new lease reissued for the Ediz Hook fish farm.

“We are already in communication with [the Department of Ecology], DNR and Fish and Wildlife,” he said.

“We are getting ready to apply.

“They know our application is coming.”

Innes Weir, former Cooke general manager, said April 5, 2017, that the company planned to relocate the Ediz Hook pens to east of the harbor due to its close proximity to a Navy submarine escort-vessel pier. Twenty pens were then in use.

The dock has since been built at the Coast Guard station, in operation since mid-2018.

Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Joel Richardson said Friday he would not comment on the lawsuit or the documents on the Fish and Wildlife website.

Richardson said he expects existing net pens off Ediz Hook, now empty, would be employed in raising the steelhead and that any issues with ships approaching and leaving the Navy dock have been resolved.

“My understanding is they’ve been operating without incident,” Richardson said.

The pens were slated for removal. Plans for a new Cooke fish farm at a site near Morse Creek were stymied by legislation Gov. Jay Inslee signed in March 2018 that phased out salmon farming statewide.

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

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