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Washington could end net pens for fish by 2024

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 12, 2018, 10:47 p.m.

In this Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017 photo, Riley Starks of Lummi Island Wild shows three of the farm raised Atlantic salmon that were caught alongside four healthy Kings in Point Williams, Wash. A marine net pen holding 305,000 farmed Atlantic salmon collapsed recently, releasing thousands of fish into Puget Sound and renewing concerns that a new proposed salmon farm could harm wild salmon stock and cause other environmental damage. (Dean Rutz / AP)

OLYMPIA – By 2024, Washington could ban all net pens where nonnative fish are raised commercially.

A bill approved Thursday by the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Water Committee would keep the state from renewing the existing leases as they expire between 2022 and 2024. No new leases are being issued but the state has legal obligations to honor current leases.

The proposal also calls for an extensive study of the practice of raising fish in large pens by companies that lease space in Washington waters. It would be presented to the Legislature in January 2021.

“Will the study help the net pen companies stay?” Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, asked.

“The Legislature will have two sessions to make a decision on whether they continue or not,” Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, the bill’s sponsor said.

Critics of net pens say they introduce pollution from nonnative species like Atlantic salmon into the Puget Sound and can jeopardize native salmon and other fish.

Last summer a net pen near Tacoma, with more than 300,000 Atlantic salmon, collapsed and tens of thousands of the fish escaped into the Sound.

Most were caught or starved because they were unable to find food in the wild. But some were found as far as 42 miles up the Skagit River.

The committee sent the bill to the Ways and Means Committee, which will study its budget impact before deciding whether to send it to the full Senate.