Washington state cancels salmon farm lease after fish escape

Allen Cooke, left, and Nathan Cultee emerge from the hold of the Marathon on Aug. 22, 2017 after having separated out the 16 farm-raised Atlantic salmon they caught fishing off Point Williams, Wash. (Dean Rutz / Associated Press)

SEATTLE – Washington state officials have canceled an Atlantic salmon farm lease belonging to a company that also operates another salmon farm where more than 160,000 adult fish escaped into Puget Sound last summer.

Public Lands State Commissioner Hilary Franz says the decision is final with no room for negotiation, the Seattle Times reported in a story on Sunday.

Franz said the Washington Department of Natural Resources will work with Cooke Aquaculture Pacific and other state agencies to complete an orderly shutdown and removal of the farm in Port Angeles.

The company also operates a fish farm at Cypress Island where the escape occurred in August.

In a news release Sunday, Franz said that after the fish escape she directed her staff to inspect every net pen in the state to make sure the company was meeting its contract and that the state’s waters were safe.

“It is now clear that Cooke has been violating the lease terms for its Port Angeles net pens,” Franz wrote. “In light of this violation, and in fulfillment of my commitment to protect our lands and waters, I am terminating the lease.”

Franz said the farm is outside the boundaries of its lease and causing a navigation hazard. She also said the company has failed to maintain the salmon farm in a safe condition, posing the risk of another fish escape. The farm currently holds about 700,000 Atlantic salmon.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific spokesman Joel Richardson told the newspaper in an email that the company learned of the lease termination Friday and is “evaluating their request.”

Richardson wrote that the notice from the Department of Natural Resources “came as a surprise given the extensive improvements we have been undertaking to the site to ensure compliance, and our efforts to work with DNR to address self-identified issues in a cooperative manner.”

Of the fish that escaped in August, officials say more than 105,000 remain unaccounted.

The Upper Skagit tribe has been catching Atlantic salmon more than three months after the escape some 40 miles up the Skagit River, considered one of the state’s Pacific salmon strongholds.