Cooke is back, back again

ChaseBallard

bushwhacker
https://crosscut.com/2019/08/still-...on-cooke-aquaculture-now-wants-farm-steelhead

Trying to sidestep WA's new Atlantic salmon fish farm ban by farming "steelhead" (hatchery rainbows).

It's been distressing to see the lack of attention around this from WDFW, DOE, DNR and the tribes, not to mention some of the groups active in the 2017-18 fish farm fight.

If this flies under-the-radar, they might pull it off.

https://crosscut.com/2019/08/still-recovering-escaped-atlantic-salmon-cooke-aquaculture-now-wants-farm-steelhead

Still recovering from escaped Atlantic salmon, Cooke Aquaculture now wants to farm steelhead
After nearly a quarter million escaped fish resulted in a ban on Atlantic salmon farming in Washington, Cooke Aquaculture is attempting to transition to native steelhead. Environmental advocates are concerned.
by
Hannah Weinberger
/ August 5, 2019 /

In August 2017, at least 263,000 farmed Atlantic salmon escaped from Cooke Aquaculture’s net pens at Washington’s Cypress Island into Washington state waters. The incident launched a legislated process to phase out nonnative finfish farming in Washington by 2025, and a $332,000 fine for Cooke Aquaculture, a Canadian multinational seafood company.

As Cooke sunsets its Atlantic salmon farming in the state, it has experienced at least two viral outbreaks impacting more than 1 million fish; and was fined for more water quality violations.

But not quite two years since the disaster, Cooke Aquaculture is exploring something that has put environmental activists on alert: the possibility of transitioning its remaining net pens to farm native steelhead trout.

What happened
An investigation led by three Washington state departments — Ecology, Natural Resources and Fish & Wildlife — found Cooke allowed one of three net pens at the Cypress Island facility to encrust with enough shellfish, seaweed and other marine life that it ultimately collapsed under its own weight.

The state considers the nonnative fish a pollutant once it escapes a net: They may compete with native fish for resources and can be vectors for both disease and parasites like sea lice, which are lethal to juvenile salmon. Crowded net pens, where farmed juveniles grow up in close proximity, are ideal breeding grounds for diseases that can transfer to wild fish migrating nearby.

“It’s not something we’ve seen major issues with here,” says Laurie Niewolny, an Ecology water quality program permit lead and aquaculture specialist.

A statewide Atlantic salmon recovery effort enlisted fishermen to catch as many fish as they could in the months after the net pen failure. The Lummi Nation, whose traditional fishing grounds are near Cypress Island, declared a state of emergency and captured tens of thousands of errant fish, but many escaped to the ocean.

Environmental groups such as the Wild Fish Conservancy contributed to journal studies showing some of those Atlantic salmon carried exotic diseases. Fishermen reported finding Atlantic salmon at least nine months after the collapse in places as far away as the Skagit River, but Fish & Wildlife officials said there was no evidence of invasive colonization in Washington river systems.

In addition to losing its Cypress Island lease, Cooke ultimately saw additional lease cancellations at facilities in Port Angeles after a state-led review. The company is fighting cancellations in Thurston County Superior Court.

In response, the Lummi Nation joined environmental activists and politicians in advocating a ban on nonnative finfish farming in Washington state. The Legislature responded by banning new leases for the practice starting in 2022.

Cooke is still farming Atlantic salmon at its four remaining net pen facilities, though its existing leases expire in 2022. Until then, Washington is the only Western state with Atlantic salmon net pen farming, and Cooke is the only operator. In the meantime, Ecology is implementing new, more stringent water-quality permits for the four pens of Atlantic salmon as a safeguard until the phaseout is completed.

“They are beefed up and updated to reflect everything that we learned through that accident,” says Niewolny, the Ecology aquaculture specialist.
But Cooke plans to find a use for its facilities. And if nonnative finfish are off the table, locally sourced ones might be a way to stay in play.


What could happen
In January 2019, Cooke sent Fish & Wildlife a marine aquaculture permit application to transition to production of steelhead, Washington’s state fish. Steelhead are the same species as rainbow trout, but they mature in the ocean and return to rivers to breed. They are often larger than river- and lake-dwelling rainbow trout.

“It is an approved farmed species for aquaculture in the state … [and there’s] growing market demand for sustainably farmed steelhead,” says Joel Richardson, Cooke’s vice president of public relations. The company employs approximately 60 full-time employees in Washington state. “They would like to stay employed,” Richardson says, “and we would like to continue to employ them. Jobs in rural Washington ... are fairly scarce, and these are full-time, year-round positions.”

The application lists all of Cooke's farms, including those with expired leases, say Ken Warheit, a Fish & Wildlife supervisor of fish health and molecular genetics laboratories.

“Right now, their plan, according to their permit application, is purchasing eggs from a local source” in Puget Sound, Warheit says. “These fish are supposed to be all females and sterile, so the logic is that if the fish do escape, they would not breed with our fish spawning in our rivers. So they are taking the precaution of making it more difficult for that negative effect to occur.”

Richardson confirmed that Cooke is planning to purchase eggs from Troutlodge, a Bonney Lake-based company that both Washington tribal nations and Fish & Wildlife use to stock lakes.

Environmental advocacy groups say it doesn’t matter where the fish originate: Farming fish, to their members' minds, makes them different animals with unique learned behaviors. Five of the state’s seven distinct populations of steelhead are endangered.

“Given the tenuous state of wild steelhead populations, the last thing our endangered State Fish needs is another threat to push them further down the path towards extinction,” Rich Simms, co-founder of Wild Steelhead Coalition, says in a public statement for the nonprofit.

Simms and his colleagues believe that beyond the potential to spread viruses and compete for resources, escaped farmed steelhead could interbreed with and dilute local steelhead stocks.

“When fishermen talk about a native run, [those are fish] uniquely adapted to a specific watershed,” says Chase Gunnell, communications director of Conservation Northwest, who sits on the Wild Steelhead Coalition’s board of directors with Simms. He says Cooke’s fish may “be a stock that is taken from some other watershed and raised in a facility, reared in a net pen.”

While Warheit says the fish are considered native if they originate in Washington state, he does acknowledge that because “they’re highly domesticated, there’s a possibility these animals would behave very differently than our wild steelhead.”

The Atlantic salmon recovered after 2017’s escape were found mostly with empty stomachs, suggesting an inability to hunt.

“There are concerns for both Atlantic salmon and steelhead and [advocates] may have a point, although certainly making steelhead to be infertile, sterile fish should mitigate some of those concerns,” Warheit says. “I don’t think it would eliminate concerns, but people should be mindful of that.”

“We need to consider what kinds of ecological interactions may occur between their fish and our fish,” Warheit adds. “There’s always concern about [things like] disease in terms of farmed fish. But we take precautions in terms of disease transfer.” That includes testing juveniles for disease before they’re transferred from freshwater to saltwater, he says. “We would do the same for steelhead, if they do get a permit.”

Crosscut reached out to the Lummi Nation and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for comment on Cooke possibly farming steelhead, but did not receive a response.

In order to receive a marine aquaculture permit, Cooke must submit additional information to state agencies for review. Fish & Wildlife will then put it through a State Environmental Protection Act [SEPA] process.

If Fish & Wildlife moves forward with Cooke, Ecology would then consider modifying the original water quality permits. “I would be looking at it from the operation of the farm itself, and how it impacts water quality. … So the species change, while we’re gonna track it, is not the primary focus for us,” Niewolny says.

Warheit says Cooke’s past activity won’t affect how Fish & Wildlife receives and handles Cooke's application.
“We’re going to consider their application under its own merits,” he says.

Warheit isn’t sure how long the environmental review at Fish & Wildlife, let alone the other state agencies involved, would take.

“The purpose of SEPA is, if a project hasn’t occurred in a certain place at a certain time, it’s by definition new,” Warheit says. He doesn’t know how long the SEPA process might take after Cooke finalizes its application, guessing anywhere from days to months.

Cooke notes that the state itself raises steelhead, but through a hatchery process called sea ranching, which doesn’t involve net penning.

“We have dozens and dozens of steelhead hatcheries where we spawn fish, hatch the eggs and raise the fish until a certain juvenile size, and then the fish are released into the environment,” where they mature at sea and return in one to three years, Warheit says.

While private rainbow trout aquaculture exists in the state, there is no exact precedent for what Cooke is attempting to do. The closest analog is Pacific Aquaculture, which raises rainbow trout in net pens in the Columbia River’s Rufus Woods Lake. “That is in freshwater, and way above many, many series of dams,” Warheit notes. There is nothing similar in Puget Sound.

“What Cooke is proposing right now is something that isn’t done in Washington, which is to raise the species in marine net pens for the entire duration of their grow out,” says Warheit. “No one is doing that in marine waters.”
 

ChaseBallard

bushwhacker
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B

bennysbuddy

I think the state should lease them the shut down hatchery's, the sports fisher could have a go at them before they make back to the hatchery & the grower could sell the fish that make it back!
 

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
DNR and DFW is a political tool. Just look at how our state government has caved to the shellfish industry in Willapa Bay and Puget Sound. For something like 60 years they have stood by as the industry has sprayed or otherwise applied the tidelands with pesticides and herbicides. Killing native species of shrimp and grass to benefit non native species of clams and oysters ( www.toxicpearl.com )
Aquaculture is regulated by the Department of Agriculture in Washington, just like shellfish, I believe.
 

1morecast

Active Member

ChaseBallard

bushwhacker
Aquaculture is regulated by the Department of Agriculture in Washington, just like shellfish, I believe.

DNR is the permitting authority for fish farm leases in marine waters. Department of Ecology ensures compliance with regulations limiting marine pollution. WDFW is supposed to ensure aquaculture facilities to do not impact native fish and wildlife and their habitats, including cooperating with USFWS and NMFS on impacts to ESA listed species.

All of those managing agencies seem ready to fold on this one, possibly with the exception of DNR and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

We've got less than 20 days to call for a comment extension and a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). A little longer for DNR to deny Cooke the permit, regardless of their new tribal partners. It's going to be interesting.

For those that want to submit their own comments, email; [email protected]
More info: https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/open-comments

I understand a few fish and Puget Sound advocacy groups are preparing one click comment forms.
 
B

bennysbuddy

Jamestown S Kallam tribe wants to open another fish farm in Port Angeles harbor.
The tribes will get their way
 

dustinchromers

Active Member
DNR and DFW is a political tool. Just look at how our state government has caved to the shellfish industry in Willapa Bay and Puget Sound. For something like 60 years they have stood by as the industry has sprayed or otherwise applied the tidelands with pesticides and herbicides. Killing native species of shrimp and grass to benefit non native species of clams and oysters ( www.toxicpearl.com )
Aquaculture is regulated by the Department of Agriculture in Washington, just like shellfish, I believe.

This state and those in power have absolutely zero interest in conservation other than lip service for votes and money. They use conservation as a lever to garner funds from their tax cattle. If there was any genuine interest to recover wild fish stocks this project wouldn't get past the drawing board. The only thing they care to grow is their budget and I'm sure they look at this as a way to get cash. They've sold out our fisheries so why wouldn't they permit this?
 

Driftless Dan

Driftless Dan
WFF Supporter
This state and those in power have absolutely zero interest in conservation other than lip service for votes and money. They use conservation as a lever to garner funds from their tax cattle. If there was any genuine interest to recover wild fish stocks this project wouldn't get past the drawing board. The only thing they care to grow is their budget and I'm sure they look at this as a way to get cash. They've sold out our fisheries so why wouldn't they permit this?
"Tax cattle." I love this phrase, so much more descriptive than the one I use, "slaves."
 

ChaseBallard

bushwhacker
This state and those in power have absolutely zero interest in conservation other than lip service for votes and money. They use conservation as a lever to garner funds from their tax cattle. If there was any genuine interest to recover wild fish stocks this project wouldn't get past the drawing board. The only thing they care to grow is their budget and I'm sure they look at this as a way to get cash. They've sold out our fisheries so why wouldn't they permit this?

Grow their budget? Less than 1 percent of Washington's state budget goes to WDFW, DNR and other state natural resource management agencies.

WDFW alone gets roughly .5 percent of the state budget, despite employing 1,500+ people and providing an approx. $3 return in tax receipts for every dollar the state gives them. (2017-19 numbers for reference: WDFW Operating Budget of $427.6 million out of a state Operating Budget of $89 billion).

If conservation is just lip service for votes and money, and the state is "selling out" our fisheries, they're sure getting shit returns.

I agree that most voters and lawmakers in Olympia have next to zero interest in conservation. That's at the heart of the problem.

But as anglers (and other fish and wildlife stakeholders), we should be better than that, including calling on decision-makers to make the right calls on stuff like this fish farm bait and switch. And urging lawmakers in Olympia to give our state natural resource agencies adequate resources to do a better job at managing our natural heritage.
 
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Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
Grow their budget? Less than 1 percent of Washington's state budget goes to WDFW, DNR and other state natural resource management agencies.

WDFW alone gets less than .5 percent of the state budget, despite employing 1,500+ people and providing an approx. $3 return in tax receipts for every dollar the state gives them. (2017-19 numbers for reference: WDFW Operating Budget of $427.6 million out of a state Operating Budget of $89 billion).

If conservation is just lip service for votes and money, and the state is "selling out" our fisheries, they're sure getting shit returns.

I agree that most voters and lawmakers in Olympia have next to zero interest in conservation. That's at the heart of the problem.

But as anglers (and other fish and wildlife stakeholders), we should be better than that, including calling on decision-makers to make the right calls on stuff like this fish farm bait and switch. And urging lawmakers in Olympia to give our state natural resource agencies adequate resources to do a better job at managing our natural heritage.

Hear! Hear!!
 

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