Washington’s non-native fin fish net pen ban bill, which will phase out Atlantic salmon in-water pens, is on the Governor’s desk for signature after a roller coaster legislative effort. The Olympic Forest Coalition and other Peninsula environmental groups were a big part of the push to get the bill passed, as part of the umbrella “Our Sound, Our Salmon” coalition. At the head of the effort to get the bill passed in the House were Representatives Mike Chapman and Kris Lytton. In the Senate, Senators Kevin Ranker and Kevin Van De Wege deserve major credit for final passage of the bill.
HB 2957 – 2017-18 includes an immediate ban of new net pens and phasing out of existing net pens. The bill requires the State to establish a program and guidelines for disease inspection and control for the remainder of the life of the existing leases. The bill is on Governor Inslee’s desk. He has until the end of March to sign it. Governor Inslee has gone on the record supporting the net pen ban.
OFCO Vice President Lorna Smith coordinated OFCO’s efforts in the “Our Sound, Our Salmon” coalition to win the ban on the conservation side. Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest was the lead organization in the coalition, providing key science and policy direction. “The Wild Fish Conservancy helped to build one of the best coalition’s I have worked with in many years, with their science and reasonable policy solutions, ” said Smith. “Our Sound, Our Salmon was a joy to work with. Thanks to OFCO members for responding with last-minute phone calls and comments on the bill.”
Of concern still is the presence of the Norwegian-derived PRV virus (Orthoreovirus) now found in wild salmon in Washington waters. Wild Fish Conservancy had an independent lab conduct testing of recovered Atlantic salmon after the escape of thousands of them into the Salish Sea. All 20 fish sampled were infected with PRV. The Conservancy is suing Cooke Aquaculture in a citizens suit about the Clean Water Act violations. Renowned scientist and activist Alexandra Morton has been researching salmon net pen diseases and working to ban the operations in Canada’s waters. Her work substantiates the risk that PRV poses to wild fish. See her short video on the virus. Washington’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife refutes Wild Fish Conservancy’s claims, even though the evidence of risk to native fish is now substantial.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz has closed the Cypress Island Cooke Aquaculture operations as a result of the investigation begun after the net pen collapse and release of Atlantic salmon last August. That operation, as well as Cooke Aquaculture’s pens in Port Angeles, was closed for being badly out of compliance with permit/lease requirements. The Dept. of Natural Resources is investigating other net pen operations in Washington waters to determine if there is adequate maintenance.
Our sincere gratitude and thanks go to Kurt Beardslee and Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest staff for their leadership and dedication; Representatives Chapman and Lytton and Senators Ranker and Van De Wege for their efforts in the Legislature; and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and staff for their investigation and closure of Cooke Aquaculture’s operations.
UPDATE March 23: Governor Inslee signed the bill into law on March 22. He used a section veto to delete the preamble of the bill.