On June 8th, the Wild Steelhead Coalition submitted extensive comments to the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) citing a litany of concerns with Cooke Aquaculture’s proposal to transition their existing Atlantic salmon net pens to farmed triploid rainbow trout (steelhead). These comments were in response to Cooke’s application to DOE to modify their existing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) water quality permits so that they can commercially farm triploid rainbow trout in four of their Puget Sound net pen operations.
In our comments, we urged the Department to conduct a full State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review for Cooke’s proposal to transition its existing net pens to steelhead production. Simply put, Puget Sound and its wild steelhead, which are in such dire shape that they are protected under the Endangered Species Act, are far too important to Washington’s people, economy, and ecosystem to risk by dangerously rushing through this important environmental review process.
In the years since Cooke’s existing NPDES permits were issued, the legal, political, and social landscapes surrounding net pens in Washington have changed dramatically. Much of this change is the result of the 2017 collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island Net Pen operation, which released more than 250,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound and was one of the largest environmental disasters in recent history in Washington. This disaster led to the passage of HB 2957, a bill banning non-native finfish farming in Washington’s waters. This measure was overwhelmingly supported by Washingtonians and passed by large margins in the House and Senate.
While Cooke’s farmed steelhead proposal does act in accordance with the letter of this law, it is certainly a violation of its spirit, which intended to prevent companies such as Cooke from operating dangerous salmonid net pen operations in Washington’s waters. Additionally, this proposed steelhead operation violates the will of Washingtonians who believed the threat of Cooke’s disaster-prone fish farms was being removed from Puget Sound.
Given the new legal standard established by HB 2957, the pending legal challenge to the Mitigated Determination of Nonsignificance issued in January 2020, the large amount of new information that Cooke’s application adds to the public record, the myriad information learned about the impacts of net pen since the original NPDES permits were issued, and the substantial concerns that arise from raising a native species in net pens, we believe DOE should initiate a SEPA review of the NPDES application and potentially draft a new EIS after making a determination of significance.
Read our comments below…