The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WSDFW) has approved a five-year permit for Cooke Aquaculture to farm steelhead trout in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, according to The Seattle Times.
In March 2018, Washington state’s legislature voted to phase out the farming of non-native finfish after some 500,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a Cooke farm near Cypress Island the previous year.
In deciding to farm steelhead, Cooke has found a way to continue farming in the state, as steelhead are native to the Pacific Northwest. The fish are all female and most of them cannot reproduce.
According to the WSDFW, by using female triploid fish eggs, the steelhead will be mostly sterile. The state suggests that even if one million steelhead escaped, only between 63 and 316 fertile fish would be able to survive and reproduce. But fish-farming opponents believe that even farming predominantly sterile fish can still harm the wild fisheries by polluting the water and spreading viruses, parasites, and other diseases.
Cooke will be required to have in place an escape prevention and response plan. The supplier will also be required to change its water quality permits with the Department of Ecology.
Cooke will be required to wait for regulatory approval from other state agencies before it begins farming. The process is expected to take at least a few more months.
Swinomish Tribe Chairman Brian Cladoosby said he opposes the state's approval of the permit.
“Disappointed is an understatement,” Cladoosby said. “Our salmon and steelhead are on the brink. Potentially introducing more diseases or genetic defects into our native steelhead is very disappointing.”
Cladoosby said Cooke infrastructure in the area will restrict access to traditional tribal fishing locations.