Washington Senate passes ban on Atlantic salmon aquaculture; governor's signature expected

Washington’s Senate voted 31-16 on Friday, 2 March, in favor of a ban of Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound.

House Bill 2957, which passed the state’s House of Representatives with bipartisan support in mid-February, would phase out existing Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the state of Washington by 2025 and would also ban any new leases for aquaculture involving non-native species.

The bill is now on the desk of Governor Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law based on previous comments in support of the measure.

The legislation emerged out an outcry over the August escape of at least 160,000 Atlantic salmon from a net pen operated by Cooke Aquaculture. A report issued by the state blamed biofouling and neglect of the net pens’ poor condition as the main factors behind the escape – conclusions that have been challenged by Cooke.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat and the lead author of the bill, said non-native aquaculture was too “risky” to be allowed to continue operating in the state.

“The state ban is a strong stance to ensure the protection of our marine environment and native salmon populations,” Ranker said in a statement. “The economic, cultural, and recreational resources of these incredible waters will no longer be jeopardized by the negligent actions of this industry.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler voted against the bill, arguing an outright ban went too far in punishing the aquaculture industry.

“I don’t think we should ban any job creator in this state. If we need to make improvements to regulation for the environment, that is reasonable. But an out-and-out ban is not,” Ritzville said.

Cooke Aquaculture hired six lobbyists in an unsuccessful campaign to defeat the legislation, according to the Seattle Times. Cooke Aquaculture Vice President of Public Relations Joel Richardson issued a statement following the vote saying  the company will now “fully evaluate our operations and investments in Washington and explore all our available options, ensuring that any decision we ultimately make places our employees and their families first.”

“We are deeply disappointed in the action taken by the Legislature today and the potential impact it could have on Washington’s 30-year salmon-farming industry and the more than 600 rural workers and their families that rely upon salmon farming for their livelihoods,” Richardson said. “Our employees remain our top priority, and we wish to extend our thanks and appreciation to the many lawmakers who have consistently advocated on their behalf during this process.

Cooke said it has around 80 employees living and working in the state.

“Cooke came to Washington as a global industry leader with the goal of being a valued and responsible partner here. We had planned to add significant capital investments on top of the USD 75 [EUR 60.8 million]-plus million contribution we made to Washington’s economy when we acquired the state’ existing net-pen facilities 2016,” Richardson said. 

Richardson said Cooke was open to increased inspections, paying for more scientific monitoring of Puget Sound, and shifting to raising all-female salmon to render them unable to reproduce. Ultimately, those offerings were unable to stave off the Senate’s vote in favor of an outright ban.

“We know that we have work to do with our state, tribal, and community partners to rebuild public confidence and demonstrate the value that our industry brings to Washington and the world,” Richardson said. “We remain committed to supporting Washington’s community, economy and marine ecology. And we will do so with a deep respect for the value and importance of native salmon to Washingtonians in general, and to the heritage, identity and culture of the Northwest Treaty Tribes in particular.”


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