Cooke's steelhead farm at Hope Island.

Cooke set to have its day in court

Fish farmer seeks injunction to win time to harvest steelhead from Washington State farms

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Lawyers for fish farmer Cooke Aquaculture Pacific were due in court today in a bid to postpone eviction from sites in Washington State in the northwest United States.

Cooke is seeking a preliminary injunction against the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and public lands commissioner Hilary Franz, an elected official who has refused to renew leases for the sites.

Canadian-owned Cooke is attempting to secure what it says is a reasonable timeframe to safely harvest 360,000 rainbow trout and remove equipment at the Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farm sites in Puget Sound.

The motion to the Superior Court of the State of Washington is in addition to a court appeal by Cooke against the DNR’s refusal to renew leases for the sites, and a lawsuit filed by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to protect its sovereign rights in response to Franz also banning marine net-pen aquaculture in state-controlled waters. The tribe has been working to re-open a former Cooke site at Port Angeles to farm trout and sablefish (black cod).

Smolt transfer

Cooke has also been in court in Chile this week in an effort to overturn a ban on the transfer of 170,000 Atlantic salmon smolts to its Huillines 3 farm in the Aysén region, reports Jonathan Garcés of Fish Farming Expert’s Chilean sister site,

The ban was imposed by the Superintendency of the Environment (SMA), which alleges that the farm is within the bounds of the Laguna San Rafael National Park – a protected area - and that Cooke has been breaching production limits.

Cooke, which has permission to stock the site from Chile’s aquaculture agency, Sernapesca, denies both allegations.

Cooke Aquaculture Chile's lawyer, David Cademartori.

Illegal and arbitrary

Speaking to the Third Environmental Court this week, the lawyer representing Cooke, David Cademartori, claimed that “exorbitant” powers had been used by the SMA “for political purposes, illegally and arbitrarily”.

Cademartori said cartographic information from the Ministries of National Assets and Environment showed that Huillines 3 was outside the national park.

The long-established farm has not been environmentally evaluated because it started operating before the establishment of Chile’s Environmental Evaluation System, and the SMA claims the farm damages the ecosystem due to fish faeces and uneaten feed facilitating anaerobic processes and decreasing dissolved oxygen in the area.

Cademartori argued that this is not the case.

Cooke has stressed that the smolts – due to be stocked last year – must be stocked this week, and if it can’t do that Cooke will have losses of almost US $8 million: $703,135 for the cost of the euthanised smolts; $847,301 for the cost of two pen assemblies and farms that cannot be used; and $6,233,579 for the lost sale value of the harvest of the 170,000 fish.