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Inspection finds problems at salmon net pens owned by Cooke

Kayakers paddle out to the fish pens in Rich Passage at Bainbridge Island, Wash., Saturday Sept. 16, 2017. A group called Our Sound, Our Salmon protested at the net pens off southern Bainbridge in Rich passage.
Kayakers paddle out to the fish pens in Rich Passage at Bainbridge Island, Wash., Saturday Sept. 16, 2017. A group called Our Sound, Our Salmon protested at the net pens off southern Bainbridge in Rich passage. Kitsap Sun

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is giving Cooke Aquaculture 60 days to fix broken nets and “severe corrosion” it found at the company’s Atlantic salmon farming operation off Bainbridge Island.

The department on Monday issued a default notice after an inspection found problems at Cooke’s operation in Rich Passage, south of Bainbridge Island. If the company doesn’t repair the pens, DNR could cancel the company’s lease for the facility, which operates over public aquatic lands.

Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said state officials need to make sure Cooke’s salmon farms are structurally sound following the Aug. 19 collapse of net pens at its facility off Cypress Island, when tens of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon were released into the Salish Sea. Cooke has said it had planned to replace those nets, which it inherited from Icicle Seafoods after buying that company.

Lummi Nation chairman Tim Ballew called the DNR notice a critical step to protect the tribe’s fishery.

“Cooke’s negligence has put our native salmon stocks at significant risk,” Ballew said. “We may never know the full devastation to our treaty fishing rights.”

Aerial footage of a net holding more than 300,000 salmon that broke amid the eclipse's high tides near the San Juan Islands.

The collapse at Cypress Island remains under investigation, the department said. About half of the 305,000 fish from the collapsed pen have not been recovered.

“We cannot tolerate any risk that more Atlantic salmon will be released in Washington’s waters,” Franz said in a news release.

The DNR notice came a week after Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife approved a permit for Cooke to stock its net pens at Rich Passage with 1 million juvenile Atlantic salmon.

Cooke told The Seattle Times it would proceed with stocking the fish.

A contractor hired by DNR found issues at Cooke’s farms in Rich Passage, including a hole in netting and severe corrosion on floating piers.

Franz previously issued a moratorium on new Atlantic salmon net pen facilities on state-owned aquatic lands managed by DNR.

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