Cooke launches appeal against Washington farm closures

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Cooke Aquaculture has announced it will be appealing against the decision not to renew leases for its two remaining net-pen fish farms in the state of Washington.

The company is taking the Washington Department of Natural Resources to the Superior Court of Washington in an effort to get the lease decision overturned. Cooke is also seeking a preliminary injunction to secure “a reasonable period of time” to safely harvest the fish and remove the equipment remaining at the Rich Passage and Hope Island farm sites.

Cooke’s two farms, producing native steelhead (rainbow) trout, were the last remaining marine net-pen farms in Washington, on the northwest Pacific coast of the USA. On November 14 Hilary Franz, the state’s Commissioner of Public Lands, announced that the leases for these sites would not be renewed, and a few days later followed that up with an announcement that net-pen fish farming would be banned altogether.

Franz said at the time: “There is no way to safely farm finfish in open sea net-pens without jeopardizing our struggling native salmon… we, as a state, are going to do better by our salmon, by our fishermen, and by our tribes.”

The DNR had initially given Cooke just 30 days to harvest the fish at the two farms and remove the pens. Later in November, it said that the company would have until 14 January to harvest the remaining fish, and until 14 April to remove the equipment.

Cooke said in a statement yesterday: “DNR’s refusal to renew Cooke’s leases was punitive, arbitrary, and contrary to extensive scientific research completed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”), DNR’s sister agency that has primary responsibility to ensure the health of wild fish stocks in Washington. WDFW’s research concluded that farming of rainbow trout in Washington waters, as proposed by Cooke, would not have probable significant adverse impacts to the environment, and those conclusions were unanimously affirmed by the Washington Supreme Court in January of this year.”

The company also pointed out that the strain of sterile rainbow trout grown by Cooke is the same strain used by WDFW to stock lakes and rivers throughout Washington.

Cooke has stressed the devastating effect that the closures would have on its employees, and – in a sign that the gloves are off – explicitly linked Commissioner Franz’s hard line on aquaculture to her re-election campaign, accusing her of launching  a fundraising drive on the back of it.

Cooke said: “Upon hearing the evidence and reviewing the files and records Cooke has asked the court to compel DNR and Commissioner Franz to produce, Cooke is confident that the court will conclude that DNR had no basis in law or science to deny the Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farm lease renewal applications.”

Hilary Franz, Washington State’s Commissioner of Public Lands

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