Cooke plans to farm native rainbow trout in Washington state in the Pacific Northwest. Photo: NOAA.

Cooke moves closer to green light for trout farming in US

Salmon farmer Cooke Aquaculture has said that stricter rules which are being attached to its plans to grow rainbow trout in Washington state in the United States are workable and will allow for sustainable marine aquaculture.

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Cooke changed tack to grow native trout, also known as steelhead, after state legislators banned the net pen farming of non-native Atlantic salmon following the escape of more than 100,000 fish from Cooke’s Cypress Island farm in Puget Sound in 2017.

The Washington Department of Ecology (ECY) has this week released draft revised water quality permits at four net pen facilities that will allow Cooke Aquaculture to raise triploid sterile steelhead in the Sound.

Draft permits

The four facilities comprise Hope Island in Skagit Bay and three in Rich Passage in Kitsap County. The public has until October 26, 2020, to review and comment on the permits.

Following the comment period, ECY will review public feedback and determine if further modifications are needed.

The additional requirements proposed by the ECY include:

  • Clarifying that any fish reared in Cooke’s net pens are prohibited from release.
  • Adding requirements and details on how to notify state agencies of events that could potentially lead to fish escape.
  • Increasing monitoring and reporting of potential fish escape during stocking and harvesting.
  • Adding monthly reporting for fish feed consumption.
  • Adding details on how nets must be maintained.
  • Adding a requirement to study new technologies and propose alternatives that reduce waste from feed.

“We believe the state’s additional requirements in the draft permits are workable and will allow for sustainable marine aquaculture to continue and the environment to be further protected,” said Cooke press spokesman Joel Richardson.

Aquatic land leases

Cooke’s aquatic land leases with another state authority, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), expire in 2022. For Cooke Aquaculture to continue fish farming with native fish beyond 2022, DNR would need to renew the leases.

In January, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific and joint venture partner Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe welcomed the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) approval to farm trout at another former Atlantic salmon site, in Port Angeles Harbour.

“In 2018 the Legislature determined that they preferred the farming of native fish. Since we have always strived to be a good regional partner, steelhead were chosen as the native fish suitable for the Puget Sound and for customer markets,” said Richardson.

“Our partnership with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to provide a fresh supply of locally farmed seafood will require investment in new equipment and technology while supporting local jobs.”