04/29/2019: "Cooke Pays The $332K Penalty Over Salmon Release"
( A. Breckenridge screen capture file photo)
Cooke Aquaculture will pay the full $332,000 penalty to the Washington Department of Ecology for the collapse of its floating pen near Cypress Island that released 250,000 non-native fish into Puget Sound.
Initially, Cooke Aquaculture appealed the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board, but in a legal settlement with Ecology, agreed to pay the full penalty. The collapse in August 2017 led to a multi-agency investigation, and ultimately to the state Legislature passing a bill to phase out non-native fish farming.
The collapse in August 2017 led to a multi-agency investigation, and ultimately to the state Legislature passing a bill to phase out non-native fish farming. As a result of the investigation, Ecology fined Cooke for water quality permit violations that include: poor net cleaning and maintenance; failing to follow required protocol for repairs; and, insufficient attention to structural engineering.
The Legislature determined in 2018 that farming non-native fish, such as Atlantic salmon, in Washington’s marine waters would be phased out starting in 2022 as part of House Bill 2597. This means Cooke is allowed to continue with Atlantic salmon farming until 2022.
Ecology also is updating and strengthening the water quality permits for Cooke’s four remaining floating fish pens near Hope Island and in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island. Additional protective measures to be included in the permits include:
· Increasing underwater video monitoring of net pens
· Conducting inspections to assess structural integrity of the net pens and submit inspection reports certified by a qualified marine engineer to Ecology
· Improving net cleaning and maintenance procedures to prevent fish escape
· Requiring the permittee to develop site specific response plans in the event of a fish release, and to conduct and participate in preparedness trainings
· Requiring improved maintenance of the net pens
· Maintaining contact information to notify area tribes in the event of a fish release
The settlement stipulates that $265,600 of the penalty will go to an environmental project related to regional salmon enhancements or habitat restoration.
The remaining $66,400 will be paid into Ecology’s Coastal Protection Fund that supports grants to public entities for environmental protection and restoration statewide.
The investigation revealed that, due to improper cleaning and neglect, Cooke allowed 110 tons of mussels and marine organisms to accumulate on the pen’s nets. Tidal currents pushing against the mass of organisms on the nets overwhelmed the pen’s mooring system and crushed the pen.
In its termination letter to Cooke, DNR outlined that Cooke’s failure to maintain the facility “in good order and repair, in a clean, attractive, and safe condition” is a clear violation of the lease and the basis for termination.
“Cooke has flagrantly violated the terms of its lease at Cypress Island,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands. “The company’s reckless disregard endangered the health of our waters and our people, and it will not be tolerated.
“On behalf of all Washingtonians, and in fulfillment of my duty to protect our state’s waters, I am terminating the lease.”
Other lease violations noted in the termination letter include:
Anchors outside of the leasehold,
Facility additions added without the consent of DNR, and
Failure to maintain another net pen at the site, one which is in poor condition and in danger of catastrophic failure.
In 2008, DNR entered into a 15-year lease with Icicle Acquisition Subsidiary (Icicle) for the Cypress Island site. Cooke assumed this lease when it purchased Icicle in May 2016. DNR will work with Cooke to end operations at the site in a timely and safe manner.