Washington state senate bans Atlantic salmon farming in state waters

Washington State senators voted Friday to ban Atlantic salmon farming in state waters.

Company that runs state's net-pen fish farms says it is considering next moves

Drone footage shows the mangled remains of a net pen near Cypress Island in Washington state that collapsed Aug. 19, 2017, releasing, what a report by state agencies estimates at about 250,000 Atlantic salmon into Pacific waters. (Beau Garreau)

Washington State senators voted Friday to ban Atlantic salmon farming in state waters.

The passage of the legislation means the state will no longer allow commercial net-pen aquaculture for Atlantic salmon in state waters.

Current leases will be allowed to run out. The last one expires in 2025.

Democratic State Sen. Kevin Ranker, the prime senate sponsor of the bill, praised Friday's 31-16 vote that sent the bill to Gov. Jay Inslee for approval.

"The state ban is a strong stance to ensure the protection of our marine environment and native salmon populations in the Salish Sea," Ranker said in a release.

"The economic, cultural, and recreational resources of these incredible waters will no longer be jeopardized by the negligent actions of this industry."

Last summer, a fish farm run by New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture saw thousands of Atlantic salmon escape in the waters off the state's San Juan Islands south of Vancouver Island.

The farming of Atlantic salmon on the West Coast is a hotly debated issue due to fears the foreign fish could cause harm to the five wild species of Pacific salmon.

Atlantic salmon are not native to Pacific waters, but are a major aquaculture species in Washington state and British Columbia.

Washington State Sen. Kevin Ranker was the prime senate sponsor of the bill. (wastateleg.org)

Company 'deeply disappointed'

In a statement, Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Joel Richardson said the company was "deeply disappointed" by the news.

He said the move would have dire consequences for 600 rural workers in the state and said the company had planned $75 million in spending in the state.

He says the company is considering next steps.

"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," he said.

A previous attempt to end foreign fish aquaculture in Washington State was passed by the senate, but failed to clear a legislative deadline in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the company said.

Cooke says it is the only company running net pen fish farms in the state.

'It's a real leadership role'

But in British Columbia, at least two voices are hailing the move.

Alexandra Morton, an activist and independent scientist, said she was surprised Washington went through with the ban.

"I've seen governments go up against this industry again and again and again and at the last minute they cave in, they just do a study, they don't actually deal with it," Morton said.

"To see that vote go through … it was incredible."

Morton says bill could have been stronger by banning all open-pen fish farming — not just Atlantic salmon. She says the solution is to move the work onto land-based pen.

Chief Robert Chamberlin with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs says the ban will be welcomed by Indigenous people in B.C. and Washington.

"It's a real leadership role on the proper and appropriate value we need to put on wild salmon,"  Chamberlin said.

He said he and other Indigenous leaders in B.C. will be pushing the province to follow suit.

Atlantic salmon were caught in the Puget Sound after Cooke Aquaculture's net pen was damaged. There is no way to confirm if the fish pictured here are the fish that escaped. (Beau Garreau)

About the Author

Liam Britten

Digital journalist

Liam Britten is journalist for CBC Vancouver. You can contact him at liam.britten@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter: @liam_britten.