Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced the termination of Cooke Aquaculture’s lease for its Cypress Island facility in a letter sent to the company on Saturday, 3 February. The termination is the second handed down by Franz to the company over the past three months.
Franz’s decision to end another of Cooke’s leases comes days after state investigators released a report which alleged that company negligence was at fault for one of three net pens falling apart at Cooke’s San Juan Islands-based site back in August 2017, releasing, allegedly, more than 260,000 Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound. Cooke had not adequately maintained its site, and practiced invalid use of its lease, Franz said.
“Cooke has flagrantly violated the terms of its lease at Cypress Island,” Franz said in her letter, which was obtained by the Seattle Times. “The company’s reckless disregard endangered the health of our waters and our people, and it will not be tolerated.”
“On behalf of all Washingtonians, and in fulfillment of my duty to protect our state’s waters, I am terminating the lease,” she added.
The terms of the termination insist that Cooke “wind up its operations and clear out” of its Cypress Island site immediately, Franz said.
There are three farms that fall within the confines of Cooke’s Cypress Island location – Site 2, which suffered the net pen failure and has since been destroyed and removed, as well as two other farms available for restocking. The termination of the lease means all farms in the area are no longer allowed to operate.
According to state investigators, Cooke’s installation of two improvements to the site – a feed barge facility and an office platform – without pre-approval from the Department of Natural Resources and without a required performance bond, went against the terms of the lease. Moreover, inspectors said the company failed to maintain the net pen at Site 1, and found the facility to be “in poor condition, likely past the end of its service life, and in danger of catastrophic failure,” according to the letter. Cooke has disputed these findings, according to the Seattle Times.
Cooke, which is one of the largest salmon farmers in North America, lost the lease for its Port Angeles facility back in December 2017. With both Port Angeles and Cypress Island out of commission – together, the farms were responsible for 42 percent of Cooke’s production capacity for Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound – the company has only four of its original nine sites in Washington state available for full operation, the Seattle Times reported.
Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations for Cooke, said the company is reviewing Franz’s letter, determining what it means for the business and its employees.
“We will reserve comment until we’ve had the proper time to review the letter and assess its impact on our operations and our employees’ livelihoods,” Richardson told the newspaper.
Cooke is currently fighting legislation in Olympia to phase out its operations in Washington, and has come out in opposition to the findings cited in the investigative report compiled by the state departments of natural resources, fish and wildlife, and ecology.
“Investigators with limited experience … produced an inaccurate and misleading document that appears to be intended to fuel the push by aquaculture opponents to put Cooke out of business in Washington State,” Richardson said of the report in a prepared statement.