Cooke sues after Washington moves to withdraw farm permit

Published on
January 8, 2018

Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz has ruled that Cooke Aquaculture must shut down its Atlantic salmon net pen farm off the Ediz Hook in Port Angeles, citing lease violations including a defective anchoring system and styrofoam discharge into Puget Sound. 

In response, the Canada-based aquaculture firm, which has eight farms in Washington, has filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that it was not in default and that the state had no basis to terminate its agreement at the pen site, which holds around 700,000 fish. 

Cooke claims that the lease termination, which was announced in mid-December , was “based on erroneous and outdated information about the condition of the facility,” the company wrote in a press release. 

The farm in dispute, which belonged to Icicle Seafoods and was taken over by Cooke following its acquisition of Icicle in May 2016, lies in Port Angeles harbor, and includes a six-cage unit and a 14-cage unit of net pens, according to the Seattle Times. In its suit, the company estimated investment in the site at around USD 4.5 million (EUR 3.7 million), and said the fish at the farm were not scheduled to be harvested “until late 2018 at the earliest.”

In a prepared statement, Franz responded to Cooke’s lawsuit by saying that the commission’s decision was final and that “as we have already seen with Cypress Island, a weakened facility poses significant threat to the Puget Sound.” Franz was referencing an incident that occurred in August in which more than 160,000 non-native salmon escaped into the sound when a Cooke farm near Cypress Island, Washington, fell apart. At least 100,000 of the salmon have yet to be recaptured and have been found as far as 42 miles up the Skagit River late in 2017. 

“The basis for terminating Cooke Aquaculture’s lease at its Port Angeles facility was made clear to the company and the public. My team will vigorously defend the termination against this meritless lawsuit,” Franz said. “I encourage Cooke Aquaculture to drop this lawsuit and work cooperatively with the Department of Natural Resources to safely close down the facility.”

Cooke said its lawsuit was filed before the company has had an opportunity to meet with Franz, a situation the company deemed regrettable but necessary.

“While we regret the need to file suit before meeting with the commissioner, we were required to do so in order to protect the company’s legal rights,” Cooke Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson said. “Nonetheless, Cooke believes that a fulsome dialogue with DNR, which it regards as a long-standing partner in its recently acquired Washington aquaculture program, can likely resolve any legitimate, substantive factual issues between the parties. If those issues cannot be amicably resolved by dialogue with the commissioner, then we are prepared to assert our legal rights by way of the judicial system.”

In response to the decertification, State Senator Kevin Ranker, who proposed a bill in November to ban Atlantic salmon farming in Washington said, “there is no place for invasive-species net pen aquaculture in Washington.” 

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

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