Finally, Washington bans salmon farms

By 2025, Atlantic salmon will be gone from Puget Sound
our sound our salmon flotilla
Photo: Earl Harper / Harper Studios

This past September, residents from all over Washington formed the 'Our Sound Our Salmon' flotilla in the waters off Bainbridge Island to send a clear message: end net pen farming of Atlantic salmon, an invasive species anywhere in Pacific waters, in Washington and protect the state's wild, natural, and native salmon runs. The event was prompted by an August escape of as many as 200,000 Atlantic salmon from Cooke Aquaculture's Cyprus Island farm in Puget Sound.

And the flotilla members weren't alone, public sentiment from almost every walk of life—commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, tribal interests and more—was unified. Even the statehouse was on board, with Washington's Governor Jay Inslee directing that no new Atlantic salmon farming permits be issued while the Cyprus Island escape was investigated. But when in October, after citing a lack of legal grounds on which to deny the action, Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife approved a Cooke Aquaculture permit application to put 1 million more Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound waters, the prospects of putting an end to invasive Atlantic salmon farming in Washington waters seemed uncertain.

Last month, Washington lawmakers put an end to that uncertainty by passing a bill that will effectively ban Atlantic salmon farming in Washington state, phasing out the process by 2025. Despite considerable political wrangling surrounding the bill, it enjoyed strong bi-partisan support and passed both Washington's House and Senate by comfortable margins and on March 22nd, Gov. Inslee signed the measure into law.

"This is a huge win for the public and an even greater win for wild fish. Both myself and the thousands of supporting members of the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign are grateful to the legislature and Governor for protecting our wild salmon from the needless risk posed by this industry," said Kurt Beardslee, Executive Director of the Wild Fish Conservancy.

our sound our salmon flotilla
Photo: Earl Harper / Harper Studios

Though escaped, farmed Atlantic salmon have failed to establish wild populations in any Pacific waters where they have escaped, scientists have warned that Atlantics pose serious threats to wild, native salmon populations in Pacific waters, via competition for food sources and as vectors of disease—viruses, bacterial infections and parasites—which are commonly epidemic in crowded, net-pen farms.

Opponents of salmon farming also highlight the serious environmental impacts caused by salmon farming operations, including the pollution of near-shore waters with antibiotics, chemicals used to kill parasites, high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus and the littering of the sea floor with massive volumes of fecal and other wastes generated by net-pen farms.

Representatives from Cooke Aquaculture have indicated that Cooke will evaluate and pursue "all available options" to impact the state's decision and, should the ban be enforced by the state, plans to sue to recover its $76 million dollar investment in farming operations in Washington.