Aquaculture company responsible for net pen failure to pay $332K penalty
2017 net pen breach released thousands of non-native fish into the Pacific
Following a legal settlement, the Washington state aquaculture company responsible for the failure of its floating net pen in August 2017 will pay a $322,000 US penalty to the Washington Department of Ecology.
More than 250,000 Atlantic salmon were released into the Pacific from Cooke Aquaculture's Cypress Island facility, due east of Victoria, after fish farm nets were damaged.
At the time, Cooke blamed high tides, currents and a coinciding solar eclipse for the failure of the net pen, but a subsequent report blamed the company for negligence, saying the collapse was preventable.
"We think this is a good outcome," said Rich Doenges with the Department of Ecology.
"The agreement was to pay the full penalty, but use 80 per cent of the proceeds towards a supplemental environmental project," he said.
Cooke has one year to develop a plan to help improve water quality and fish habitat in Puget Sound, and the project will be reviewed and approved by the Department of Ecology.
Salmon sightings in Tofino
Sightings of some of the escaped salmon were reported a month after the incident on the west side of Vancouver Island in Tofino, some 250 kilometres from the fish farm, and in Campbell River on the island's east side.
The released Atlantic salmon are considered a pollutant by the Department of Ecology — and state agencies continue to monitor local waters to determine if the non-native fish are reproducing.
The collapse of the fish farm led to a multi-agency investigation, and ultimately to the Washington state legislature passing a bill to phase out non-native fish farming, starting in 2022.
"Cooke Aquaculture Pacific will continue to work with local communities, tribes, and regulators, and we are investing in upgrading operations and equipment," read a news release from the company.
"We view this as a significant component of our corporate social responsibility and we are committed to farming sustainably," it said.