The Center for Biological Diversity will work alongside peer organizations to challenge a permit approval by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) allowing Cooke Aquaculture to continue harmful net pen aquaculture operations throughout Puget Sound. In 2017, a catastrophic net pen failure resulted in the escape of over 250,000 Atlantic salmon at Cooke’s Cypress Island facility. Washington subsequently passed a law banning all open water net pen aquaculture of Atlantic salmon by 2022. Despite this ban, WDFW issued a permit in January 2020, allowing for Cooke’s net pen operations to continue in Puget Sound by transitioning to a domesticated, partially sterile form of steelhead. These operations would pose a significant danger to Puget Sound habitat, as these fish are capable of interbreeding as well as exchanging pathogens and parasites with native wild steelhead, an endangered species.
Working with the Center for Food Safety, Wild Fish Conservancy, and Friends of the Earth, the Center has filed suit in state court challenging WDFW’s permit approval, charging that it poses significant environmental risks and depends on mitigation measures that will not prevent harm. Briefing begins this spring. In addition to litigation efforts, the Center and partners will engage and organize with tribes and local fishing communities to mobilize against this threat, with a goal of defeating the proposal and putting an end to all net pen fish-farming in Washington – the last state on the West Coast to allow the practice.