US victory for Cooke steelhead plans

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Steelhead trout

The Washington State Supreme Court has unanimously rejected various damage claims by a group of environmental organisations and upheld a permit granted to Cooke Aquaculture Pacific by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”) for the farming of Pacific Steelhead trout.

The Wild Fish Conservancy, Centre for Food Safety, Centre for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Earth failed as petitioners claimed that WDFW’s permitting process violated the State Environmental Policy Act (“SEPA”), as well as the Fish and Wildlife Code.

The landmark 9-0 decision paves the way for Cooke and the Jamestown S’kllalam tribe, which is a partner in the venture, to switch from Atlantic salmon to native steelhead trout. The court made the following points:

  • Farming of steelhead would not have significant adverse impacts on the environment while finding that WDFW’s comparison of steelhead farming to the possible impacts of Atlantic salmon farming “was appropriate.”
  • The WDFW’s comparison of the impacts of steelhead farming to the current, existing condition of the environment of Puget Sound, where salmon farming had occurred for three decades, was not clearly erroneous and was consistent with SEPA’s requirements.
  • The court dismissed all of the Wild Fish Conservancy’s arguments regarding possible adverse environmental impacts ruling arguments about disease were without merit.
  • It completely dismissed concerns regarding sea lice, finding that WDFW relied on “multiple studies” to support the continued conclusion that sea lice in Puget Sound waters is not a concern because of low salinities.
  • Found WFC’s arguments regarding by-catch to be without merit, noting that their allegations are “unsupported in the record” and that WDFW imposed numerous conditions to address such concern..
  • The “net pen-facilities do not involve the type of unresolved conflicts that would trigger” an environmental review process under SEPA that would require considerations of alternatives.

W. Ron Allen, chairman of the tribe, said, “Aquaculture allows us to utilise best practices in protecting the environment while continuing our traditional industries growing and gathering marine-based resources.”

Joel Richardson, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s Vice President of Public Relations Aquaculture said: “This State Supreme Court opinion lays to rest the array of disinformation about marine aquaculture being irresponsibly circulated by activist groups.”

He added: “The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2022 the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture for a reason – because fish farming and other forms of aquaculture are the most environmentally sustainable forms of protein production and can help solve world hunger.”