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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Industry makes pitch to keep net pens

OLYMPIA – Aquaculture companies that raise Atlantic salmon in the Puget Sound made an impassioned plea Thursday to keep their net pens and the jobs they support in Washington waters.

“This bill is driven by emotion … fear based on misinformation,” Kyle Wood, marine services manager for Cooke Aquaculture said of a proposal that would not allow any new state leases for net pens and not allow existing leases to be renewed when they expire.

But tribal representatives, environmental groups and people who live near the net pens were equally forceful in telling the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee those operations should end.

Benjamin Joseph, chairman of the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe, said the bill doesn’t go far enough. The state should ban the farming of all non-native fish species.

Although Washington has allowed aquaculture companies to raise Atlantic salmon in the Puget Sound for decades, the practice has been controversial and became more so last summer after a Cooke net pen near Tacoma collapsed, releasing tens of thousands of those fish into the sound. The collapse prompted a state of emergency as tribal and commercial fishermen rushed to capture the fish.

Riley Stark, a fisherman from Lummi Island, helped haul some of those fish to processing facilities.

“We depend upon the Salish Sea to be healthy,” said Stark, using the term for the waters that includes the Puget Sound and waters off the coast of British Columbia. “What I saw…were diseased fish.”

Cooke employs about 80 people full-time in its Washington aquaculture operations, and those jobs support about 100 others, Troy Nichols, a company spokesman, said. Ending the leases would be a “kill shot” to those family-wage jobs.

Kurt Beardslee, of Our Sound, Our Salmon, said the Atlantic salmon are a source of pollution, disease and parasites that can spread to the endangered Pacific salmon. But Dan Swecker, of the Washington Fish Growers Association, said the advantages to growing Atlantic salmon are they don’t interbreed with native fish, they don’t spawn and they only eat pellets.

Each side produced marine biologists with conflicting views on whether the salmon in the net pens damage the surrounding waters and carry more diseases than their wild counterparts.

The committee listened to almost two hours of testimony, but Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, indicated a vote may not be coming soon on either the bill to end leases or another to delay any new aquaculture structures until the University of Washington completes a study of their impacts.

“This is an emotional issue on both sides,” Blake said. “The committee’s got a lot of thinking to do.”

In the Senate, a separate bill to ban new leases and not renew current leases when they expire is scheduled for a hearing next Tuesday in the Ways and Means Committee.

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