Cooke looking to convert to trout farming in Washington after Atlantic salmon ban

Published on
August 5, 2019

Black Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada-based Cooke Aquaculture plans to transition its Washington state salmon farms to become trout farms as the state’s ban on open non-native net-pen fish-farming approaches. 

The ban on non-native finfish farming was signed by Washington Governor Jay Inslee in March of 2018 and goes into effect in 2022. 

Cooke Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson called the state’s permitting “species-specific” and told SeafoodSource the move to pivot to native steelhead trout (Washington’s official state fish) is an effort to allow Cooke’s Washington state employees to keep their jobs. 

“We haven’t re-stocked, so as we harvest those sites … those pens become vacant,” Richardson said of Cooke’s Washington’s farm sites. “From the time that those sites are harvested and vacated, we would fallow them for a time and then transition towards farming steelhead.”

The August 2017 collapse of one of Cooke’s farm sites near Cypress Island which allowed more than 250,000 Atlantic salmon to escape into Puget Sound was a motivating factor for legislators to pass the farming ban the next year. The company paid USD a 332,000 (EUR 297,000) penalty to the Washington Department of Ecology to resolve claims arising from the accident.

"We understand that our relationship with the environment is vital to producing top quality seafood. Cooke Aquaculture Pacific will continue to work with local communities, tribes, and regulators, and we are investing in upgrading operations and equipment," Richardson said in an April announcement. "We view this as a significant component of our corporate social responsibility and we are committed to farming sustainably in Washington state as we do in other locations globally.”

Cooke currently has 800,000 Atlantic salmon in Washington, which is significantly fewer than the 3.5 million it had a couple of years ago. 

“Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s application to farm trout is working through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process at the State of Washington Department of Ecology. We remain hopeful for a positive outcome soon. We have 60 full-time employees at Cooke Aquaculture Pacific in rural Washington and our operations support hundreds more indirectly though our local vendor supply chain and processing,” Richardson wrote SeafoodSource in an email. “As a family-owned company, our employees and their families remain our top priority. We continue to work with tribal, state, and community partners.”

Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources

Reporting from Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

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