On March 22nd, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed HB2957 into law, an act that will effectively ban the practice of open-water Atlantic salmon aquaculture in the state of Washington. The Governor’s signature comes on the heels of bi-partisan support in the state legislature, passing the House by a vote of 67-31 and the Senate by a vote of 31-16. 

The soon to be removed Cooke Aquaculture net pen facility located within the Port Angeles Harbor. Photo credit: Gus Gates, flight provided by LightHawk

The issue of farming Atlantic Salmon within the Salish Sea has been a very controversial topic over the past year. Our Olympic Peninsula Chapter got active on the issue when Cooke Aquaculture submitted plans for a massive expansion and relocation of the Port Angeles facility off Green Point last summer. The chapter raised concerns about the potential impact to the unique wave resources found at Green Point and wave height attenuation of other locations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca further East, inadequate wave analysis and modeling, the potential for marine debris and catastrophic failure, impacts to human and aquatic ecosystem health, and the lack of comprehensive planning regarding this proposal. Read more on the background and their official comment letter.

Shortly thereafter “Opposition to the farms grew after one of Cooke Aquaculture’s three net pens off Cypress Island imploded in August. Fish from another ocean quickly swam north into Canada, south past Tacoma and up several rivers, raising fears among tribes and environmentalists that the invaders could harm the region’s struggling runs of wild, Pacific salmon.

While officials and early media accounts blamed a solar eclipse for the collapse, state investigators later concluded that the farm’s poor condition — corroded and overgrown with tons of mussels and other sea life — made it more vulnerable to the push of tidal currents that arrive like clockwork in Puget Sound.” More via KUOW

Following the Cypress Island fiasco, Surfrider joined forces with the Our Sound, Our Salmon Coalition to help amplify our collective impact on this important issue heading into the legislative session. Apart from the impacts to our wild salmon populations and important recreation areas are some of the day in, day out concerns that often go unseen with these pollutant sources on our aquatic ecosystem. “Calculations by Wild Fish Conservancy staff ecologists, done in concert with the University of Michigan’s Department of Civil Engineering, show that on a daily basis, Puget Sound net pens discharge untreated phosphorus waste at a rate comparable to the amount of treated waste from the cities of Bellingham, Port Angeles and Everett combined.

Surfrider chapters and volunteers spoke with their state legislators, attended town hall meetings, and wrote letters in support of legislation to phase out this practice within our state waters. “There is very little doubt that public support was the primary motivating factor behind the passage of HB2957. This year lawmakers expressed that they heard more from their constituents on the Atlantic salmon net pen issue than any other, and many members of both the House and Senate changed their stance on the issue over the course of the session, having considered the concerns of their constituents.

We find it heartening that a measure to protect wild fish, marine mammals, and coastal communities was passed in large part due to the outspoken voices of concerned citizens, the very citizens to which our public waters belong.” Read more on the recap from Our Sound, Our Salmon