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The collapse of Cooke's recently-acquired Cypress Island No.2 farm was just the start of its problems in Washington state.
The collapse of Cooke's recently-acquired Cypress Island No.2 farm was just the start of its problems in Washington state.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific has been ordered to shut down a farm in Washington state in the western US after officials declared it unsafe and illegal and revoked its lease.

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The Seattle Times reports that the farm at Port Angeles in Puget Sound comprises one pen with 14 cages and another with six cages, and currently holds nearly 700,000 Atlantic salmon.

Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, terminated Cooke’s lease after an inspection earlier this month discovered that the farm is outside the boundaries of its lease with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and is causing a navigation hazard.

Hilary Franz:
Hilary Franz: "These are clear breaches and endanger the public."

The farm also is polluting the water with fragments of Styrofoam crumbling off its floats. Finally, anchor lines for the farm are missing or damaged, posing a risk of collapse and fish escape - as happened in August at another Cooke farm, at Cypress Island, Franz told the newspaper. In that incident, an estimated 160,000 fish escaped.

Pens outside boundaries

“These are clear breaches and endanger the public,” she said, noting the net pens “are located in a high traffic area near Coast Guard and Naval facilities and the ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria.”

The Seattle Times reported that the previous owner of the Port Angeles farm, Icicle Seafoods, had been questioned by DNR in October 2015 as to whether the net pens were operating outside of the lease boundaries. Icicle agreed to ensure that its net pens were fully within the boundaries by October 2016. Cooke assumed the lease when it bought Icicle the following May. DNR’s inspection this month revealed the net pens are still outside the boundaries — and discovered the crumbling Styrofoam and missing and broken anchor chains.

“I’ve instructed my staff to work with Cooke to bring the operation to a close and dismantle the facility in an appropriate and timely manner,” Franz told the Times. “We are dealing with a lot of equipment, waste and biological material, and we will make sure this happens correctly and safely.”

Surprised by notice to quit

In a statement, Cooke said it was surprised to receive the termination notice, and that it was "likely the result of some miscommunication with DNR."

The statement continued: "Prior to receipt of the December 15 termination notice, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific had already addressed and completed, or was addressing, each of the inspection items cited by the Department of Natural Resources as the basis for its decision to terminate the Port Angeles lease.

"We do not believe DNR understood that we were aware of and in the process of addressing these items and we do not believe the facts support DNR’s decision to terminate the lease."

Cooke said that prior to the default notice being received, it had already completed replacing anchors and removing line components, and had scheduled replacement of a metal sheet that encapsulated the Styrofoam float.

Anchor locations known 'for 20 years'

The company added: "DNR has known about the location of the anchors outside the lease area for close to 20 years, and raised the issue to us for the first time in November, after which we proposed a solution to the department but have yet to receive a response. We look forward to discussing the notice of default with DNR officials to ensure that they are fully aware of all the work completed prior to their notice, and the enhancements we have scheduled. DNR has acted punitively without fully understanding the facts or reaching out to us for constructive dialogue."

The closure order was delivered on Friday, a few days after Cooke Aquaculture Pacific was fined $8,000 by the Washington Department of Ecology for repeatedly polluting the water at its net fish pen facility on the south end of Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound.

Bid to outlaw net pens

Cooke, which also farms salmon in Scotland, Atlantic Canada, Maine and Chile, is the only salmon farmer in Washington state, and has eight farms on four sites in Puget Sound. Two Republican state lawmakers, Jim Walsh and Drew MacEwan, have introduced legislation to immediately ban Atlantic salmon net pens in the Sound.

The bill is filed for consideration in the 60-day legislative session which begins in January. The bill, if passed, would take effect immediately upon signature by the governor, leading to the cancellation of all of Cooke's leases.

Another bill proposed by Democrat Kevin Ranker would phase out farms as leases expire.

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