OLYMPIA – The days may be numbered for companies that raise Atlantic salmon or other non-native fish in pens in Washington waters.
The Senate approved and sent to the House Thursday a bill that bans new “net pens” in Puget Sound and other state waterways and doesn’t allow for the leases on existing pens to be renewed when they expire over the next five years.
Gov. Jay Inslee, who previously called for a moratorium on new leases, said he supports the bill shortly before it passed on a bipartisan 35-12 vote.
The risk the net pens pose to native salmon, which the state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to restore, is no longer acceptable, Inslee said. Last summer a net pen operated by Cooke Aquaculture near Tacoma collapsed and released tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon into the Sound.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said a recent state investigation showed the nets of that pen were weighed down with mussels and vegetation, and the company was negligent in not cleaning the nets or harvesting the salmon before the nets collapsed.
Even a well-operating net pen poses a risk to native fish because of the feces, food, diseases and parasites they generate, he said.
“Day in, day out, the impacts to our Salish Sea cannot go unheeded,” said Ranker, using the term for Puget Sound and the inland waterways to the north.
Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said net pen critics seem to ignore other pollution problems to the Sound, like the malfunction of a Seattle sewage treatment plant that dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage.
“I think it is hypocrisy to think only one kind of pollution occurs in Washington state,” Becker said.
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, said the state may be opening itself to lawsuits and will be throwing between 200 and 300 people who work in the aquaculture industry out of work by phasing out net pens.
If there aren’t any replacement jobs, they’ll have to move away, Honeyford said.
Inslee said the state will offer job training to workers, and they’ll be entering a strong economy with low unemployment. But the state will not offer special assistance to aquaculture workers.
“There’s no constitutional right to work for a company that’s putting non-native species into Puget Sound,” Inslee said.
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