Inslee signed House Bill 2957 into law this week, following its passage through Washington’s legislature. Adding to Cooke’s woes, he vetoed one section that called for revisiting the issue as new science becomes available.
The bill refers to net pen farming of non-native finfish, but in practice this means Atlantic salmon farmed by Cooke – the state’s only net pen Atlantic salmon farmer - in Puget Sound.
Cooke, which paid Icicle Foods more than $70 million for nine farms at four sites in 2016, will not have its leases renewed when they expire. The last lease expires in 2025.
“While our company and our rural sea farming employees are deeply disappointed by the Governor’s decision to ignore the science and sign the bill, we will certainly respect the wishes of the legislature,” said Cooke press spokesman Joel Richardson.
“Our employees remain our top priority, and Cooke Aquaculture Pacific will continue to take the time we need to fully evaluate our operations and investments in Washington and explore all our available options. We will also continue to work with tribal, state and community partners.”
Cooke’s problems began when one of three farms at its Cypress Island site collapsed during high tides in August last year, allowing up to 263,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. State agencies found Cooke was wholly to blame for the escape, although the company disputes both the competence of the investigators and the number of escaped fish.
Washington’s Department of Natural Resources has already terminated Cooke’s leases at Cypress Island, as well as at a separate site, Port Angeles, because of alleged lease violations.
Cooke is fighting the Port Angeles termination in court.
Earlier this year, Cooke said it would sue to recover the money it paid for the Washington farms, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, if legislation was passed to outlaw Atlantic salmon farming. The Canadian company claims it has been unfairly treated because it is foreign, pointing that that previous escapes from fish farms then run by US companies did not attract the same punishment.
In another move, a Washington conservative activist, Tim Eyman, has filed documents calling for a referendum on bill 2957, reports the Seattle Times. One option would be to put the entire bill up for public vote, and the other would focus on the portion related to phasing out salmon farming.
He must gather 129,811 signatures by June 6.
Richardson told the Seattle Times that Cooke had nothing to do with Eyman or his referendum plans.
“We have no affiliation with this individual or his initiative, nor is this a direction we are taking,” he told the newspaper.