Cooke gives up legal fight over trout farm closures

Hope Island steelhead trout farm, Washington state (Photo: Cooke Aquaculture, 2022)

Cooke Seafood has abandoned plans to win back leases at its two Washington state steelhead trout farms in the US, blaming delays by the state’s administration which it says make the case futile.

The group’s subsidiary, Aquaculture Pacific, has filed a motion with the Superior Court of the State of Washington to dismiss its appeal against the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”).

In November 2022 DNR head Hilary Franz ordered that leases for the farms, the last remaining net-pen aquaculture operations in the state, should not be renewed.

The Superior Court motion had sought a reinstatement of Cooke’s leases at the Rich Passage and Hope Island steelhead trout fish farms in Puget Sound.

This action was initially brought by Cooke in response to DNR’s refusal to allow enough time to safely harvest its fish and remove farming equipment from the water following what the company called “DNR’s arbitrary and punitive” decision to deny renewal of the leases.

Cooke said it was grateful that in January 2023 Judge Indu Thomas of the Superior Court of the State of Washington swiftly enjoined DNR from enforcing unrealistic deadlines that could have entailed endangering its employees.

But it added: “As a result of DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz’s arbitrary decision, over 100 Washington fish farming professionals including farm managers, veterinarians, hatchery technicians, truck drivers, processing plant workers and vessel crew have since been forced out of their jobs by Franz following the baseless closure of locally established fish farms.

“The Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farms were present at the same locations for more than 40 years, with scientific studies and monitoring data consistently showing that the farms did not have an adverse impact on the environment.

“In 2019, The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife approved Cooke’s five-year trout farming permit after conducting an extensive review under the Environmental Policy Act.”

State blamed for delays

Since the injunction was issued against DNR in January 2023, Cooke said it has endeavoured to obtain public records from DNR that it believes are needed to allow for a fair appeal hearing before the Court on the issue of whether DNR properly denied Cooke’s lease applications.

Despite the request being pending for almost a year, it claims DNR refused to work with Cooke on the timeline to provide records and has never provided any substantive responses that would allow Cooke to explain to the Court the basis for the lease denials.

Cooke’s statement said: “Based on the number of records that DNR claims are responsive to Cooke’s request, at the rate DNR has produced records to date, it would take another six to seven years for all responsive records to be produced by DNR which is an untenable and inconceivable situation.”

The company concluded: “A further hearing on this matter is futile without Cooke having an opportunity to review DNR’s internal records and ensure the record before the Court is complete. Such a hearing would be a waste of judicial resources and everyone’s time, therefore, Cooke has filed a motion to dismiss its appeal.”

 

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