A still from the NWAA's video in which fish farm workers express their dismay at Franz's ban.
A still from the NWAA's video in which fish farm workers express their dismay at Franz's ban.

Fish farm workers speak out to ‘Stop Hilary Franz’

Washington residents asked to add voices to demand that net pen ban on native fish is reversed


Aquaculture workers in Washington state in the US are taking part in a campaign to reverse a ban on fish farming imposed by an elected official.

The fish farmers, some of whom have worked in the sector for more than 30 years, have lost their jobs following a decision by Washington’s public lands commissioner Hilary Franz last November to ban fish farming in state-controlled waters. The first they learned about the ban and its inevitable effect of their livelihoods was from TV coverage of a press conference where Franz, flanked by well-known anti-aquaculture and anti-commercial fishing activists, announced her decision.

In a six-minute video, workers speak of their pain and shock at Franz’s decision, which they say flies in the face of scientific evidence and their own experience that fish farming in Puget Sound is not harmful to the environment.

Blatantly political decision

The video is part of a campaign, www.stophilaryfranz.com, organised by the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA). It urges voters to send a pro forma message to state legislators that asks them to overturn Franz’s unilateral decision.

“Franz’s blatantly political action last November not only forced fish farmers out of work, but also ended the availability of affordable, nutritious, sustainable, and locally farmed fish for Washington consumers,” said NWAA executive director Jeanne McKnight.

Washington’s state legislature banned the open net pen farming of non-native fish – effectively, Atlantic salmon – in 2018, but allowed farming on native fish such as steelhead salmon (sea-going rainbow trout). Franz’s executive order, which cited a 2021 report that “not all risk” from fish farming can be eliminated, overruled the state parliament’s decision.

Unscientific ban

“This unscientific ban on commercial net pens shows that Hilary Franz is playing politics with your dinner plate - at the expense of hard-working, dedicated people who have made the production of nutritious seafood their life-long career,” McKnight said. “It’s outrageous that Franz ignored multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies proving the ecological safety of farming fish and completely disregarded a unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming the legality of farming native steelhead in our state waters.

“We are outraged that she completely ignored the multi-year comprehensive study, conducted right here in Puget Sound, that gave rise to the recent biological opinion from NOAA (the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) showing no significant adverse impacts on endangered species by fish farms operating in the state.

“Hilary Franz needs to act like a true leader and explain to our farmers who lost their livelihoods, just what science she used to make this harmful decision. She refuses to do that.”

Highest consumption

McKnight added: “We are pleading with Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington state Legislature to take a closer look at the devastating consequences of the Franz decision by hearing directly from the farmers who lost their livelihoods with no warning. It is important to question whether this unilateral decision runs counter to the letter and spirit of Washington law.”

After the last farmed steelhead was harvested in Puget Sound last month, a US Department of Agriculture-funded study revealed the Seattle-Tacoma market has the highest per capita consumption of farmed steelhead of any other metropolitan region in the country.

“With local fish farmers banned from producing such in-demand fish, Commissioner Franz’s actions will lead to higher prices and less availability of fresh, local, sustainably farmed, affordable fish,” said the NWAA.