Jim Parsons, who was then general manager of Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, and W Ron Allen, Tribal Council chair/CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, signing the partnership agreement in 2019.
Jim Parsons, who was then general manager of Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, and W Ron Allen, Tribal Council chair/CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, signing the partnership agreement in 2019.

Native Americans launch legal fight against fish farm ban

Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe sues Washington State public lands commissioner and natural resources department over ‘ill-informed’ decision


A Native American tribe hoping to grow fish in Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest has launched a legal challenge against a recent ban on fish farming in Washington State.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and public lands commissioner Hilary Franz following her November 17 order to prohibit commercial finfish net pen aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands.

It is the second lawsuit to be launched against Franz and the DNR following an announcement by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific this week that it is taking court action to prevent the closure of its Rich Passage and Hope Island sites in Puget Sound.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Cooke have been working together since October 2019 to reinstate the lease for Cooke’s Port Angeles farm so that the Tribe could grow sablefish (black cod) and sterile triploid, all-female steelhead (rainbow trout). The lease was revoked by Franz in 2018 over alleged rule breaches.

Environmentally responsible

The Tribe said today that it was taking legal action to protect its sovereign rights in response to the “ill-informed and overreaching decision” by Franz and the DNR.

“As a Tribe, we have always been conscientious stewards of our natural environment and look seven generations ahead in all that we do,” said W Ron Allen, chief executive and tribal chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam. “Modern, well-regulated aquaculture is the environmentally responsible solution for producing seafood and exercising our Tribal treaty rights – now and into the future.

“Tragically, population growth, pollution, poor environmental protections and development activities in the Pacific Northwest have negatively impacted our wild fish stocks.

“We must have options available to take pressure off wild fish stocks through sustainable aquaculture which will aid listed stocks to regain sustainable levels and prevent their extinction.”

Highly undemocratic

The Tribe said that in addition to refusing to respect the science about marine net-pen aquaculture, the ban was highly undemocratic.

“Commissioner Franz has mistakenly usurped the authority of our Washington State Legislature to make public policy decisions, like the bipartisan bill passed in 2018 which allows native species marine net-pen farming in Washington waters,” the Tribe said in its press release.

“Fish and shellfish have always been an integral part of S’Klallam culture as subsistence, as well as for the traditions associated with harvest, preparation, and celebration. For millennia, S’Klallam people fed their families with fish and shellfish, and traded their abundant harvest with other Tribes, devising methods for holding fresh catch, and preserving the harvest for future consumption. Our Tribe is desiring to take advantage of 21st century technology to advance this industry.

Building self-reliance

“Food sovereignty, the ability to grow and provide one’s own food sources, builds self-reliance, independence, and confidence in our youth and community. That is all in jeopardy now due to Commissioner Franz’s announcement to end marine net-pen aquaculture in Puget Sound.

“By taking legal action today, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is strongly defending its sovereign right of self-governance and self-reliance by utilising marine net-pen aquaculture to provide traditional sustenance and guarantee Tribal food security from our established fishery in our Usual and Accustomed Treaty Area in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.”