Aquaculture trade group wins right to intervene in lawsuit challenging Washington’s net-pen ban

A net-pen salmon cage in Puget Sound, Washington, U.S.A.

The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA), representing commercial aquaculture interests in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, was granted the right to intervene in a lawsuit challenging a complete ban on net-pen aquaculture in the U.S. state of Washington.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Indu Thomas ruled the NWAA had more than an attenuated interest in the suit, which was filed in December 2022 by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe against the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who in November 2022 issued a blanket ban on commercial net-pen aquaculture via executive order.

The tribe, which in August 2021 formed the Salish Fish joint venture with Cooke Aquaculture to develop a net-pen farm to raise native steelhead in Puget Sound, alleges Franz and the WDNR failed to fully consult with it about its issuance of the net-pen ban, which effectively prohibits tribes from partnering with non-Indigenous commercial entities on net-pen aquaculture commercialization. In a January 2023 response to the suit, the Washington DNR denied its action was disrespectful or undermining to the tribe’s sovereignty.

“The Commissioner’s total commercial ban appears to also be overbroad and untethered to the specific science of other expert agencies,” NWAA said in its intervention request. “Fish farming, particularly the farming of native fish species, as enacted into state law in 2018, can be accomplished with minimal impacts to the environment.”

NWAA Executive Director Jeanne McKnight said she was “pleased that the court has agreed with the trade group that its members have an interest relating to the subject of this action, despite vigorous opposition from DNR.”

“We question why the state’s landlord, DNR, felt it necessary to oppose a business association in supporting its members’ interests in such an important matter,” McKnight said. “The commissioner’s order last November not only caused great harm to the hard-working families who made a living farming a nutritious product the world needs, but also harmed the many companies that supply this industry with eggs, feed, technology, and market support. To then attempt to take away our basic right to representation of our interests in this important litigation by attempting to deny our basic right to intervene makes no sense. We are now ready to begin a new chapter for aquaculture in this region.”

Cooke Aquaculture also filed suit against the Washington Department of Natural Resources, challenging its decision not to renew its last two net-pen aquaculture leases in Puget Sound. But its suit was dismissed by Judge Thomas, who ruled on 12 May the DNR was allowed to terminate Cooke’s lease with 30 days’ notice.

The Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada-based seafood firm had originally farmed salmon in several net-pen sites in Washington it acquired from Icicle Seafoods in 2016, but switched to steelhead farming following a statewide ban on non-native finfish aquaculture was approved in response to a large-scale salmon escape in August 2017 from a Cooke farm near Cypress Island, Washington.

On 10 May, Franz announced she would run for the Democratic nomination to be Washington’s next governor, after current Washington Governor Jay Inslee said he would not seek a fourth term.

Photo courtesy of knelson20/Shutterstock


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