Court gives Cooke more time to harvest fish
Injunction blocks Washington State lands commissioner’s ‘arbitrary’ order to clear sites quickly
Fish farmer Cooke Aquaculture Pacific has won extra time to harvest trout from sites in Washington State in the northwest United States after a decision to evict the company.
On November 14, Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and elected public lands commissioner Hilary Franz announced that they were refusing to renew Cooke’s leases for its Rich Passage and Hope Island sites in Puget Sound.
Cooke was given one month to harvest its fish and remove its equipment, a demand which the company said was impossible to achieve and endangered staff.
DNR later gave the fish farmer an extra month, but Cooke applied to the Superior Court of the State of Washington for a preliminary injunction to extend the deadline to April 14, 2023. This was granted yesterday.
In a press release, Cooke said it operates its farm sites according to carefully coordinated farm management plans, with employee safety being its top priority.
The arbitrary timelines originally set forth by DNR were impossible to meet without exposing Cooke employees to dangerous winter working conditions, increasing perceived environmental risks, and causing significant financial harm
Cooke Aquaculture Pacific
“Significant changes in harvest schedules can both increase safety risks for employees and disruptions for customers,” said Cooke. “The arbitrary timelines originally set forth by DNR were impossible to meet without exposing Cooke employees to dangerous winter working conditions, increasing perceived environmental risks, and causing significant financial harm.
“Cooke sought this preliminary injunction to protect its employees and ensure safe working conditions.
“We are grateful that the Court granted our request as this extension gives our employees the flexibility required in a marine environment to ensure safe working conditions. Cooke can now remove the fish on its original harvest schedule and properly remove our equipment without subjecting employees to unnecessary risk.”
Canadian-owned Cooke switched to farming steelhead trout, which is native to the region, after Washington lawmakers banned the open-net pen farming of non-native fish following the escape of a large number of Atlantic salmon from a Cooke farm at Cypress Island, Puget Sound, in 2017.
Franz, a vociferous opponent of open-net pen fish farming, revoked Cooke’s lease for the Cypress Island site, and later for another site at Port Angeles for alleged infractions of lease conditions. That move is subject to a long-standing court challenge by Cooke.
On November 17, Franz announced that that she had signed an executive order prohibiting commercial finfish net pen aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands managed by the DNR.
Both Cooke and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, which hopes to grow steelhead and sablefish (black cod) at Port Angeles in conjunction with Cooke, have filed lawsuits against that decision.
Cooke has also filed a suit against the decision to refuse lease renewals for the Rich Passage and Hope Island sites.
Call for review
A number of seafood groups have also called for an independent review of the decision.
The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA), National Fisheries Institute (NFI), and National Aquaculture Association (NAA) want the decision examined by one or more third parties such as the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
“This was not a decision based on science,” said NWAA president Jim Parsons, who is chief executive of tribally owned Jamestown Seafood.
“If that were the case, we would be seeing a very different decision. In terminating Cooke’s marine net pen leases, the DNR has ignored the best available science from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), a state Supreme Court ruling, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Washington Department of Ecology … demonstrating that marine aquaculture does not harm endangered species or wild fish stocks.”