On November 14, 2022, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) abruptly issued notices to Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, LLC (“Cooke”) that it would not be renewing two rainbow trout farming leases located at Rich Passage and Hope Island in Puget Sound. Furthermore, DNR arbitrarily and unreasonably demanded that Cooke harvest all fish and remove all farm equipment from the sites within 30 days. The lease application denials were the culmination of Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s five-year quest to “bury” Cooke and destroy aquaculture in Washington.
Just days later, Commissioner Franz again ignored science and legislative mandate by unilaterally implementing a politically self-serving executive action to ban commercial fish farming in the State of Washington.
Right after announcing the lease application denials and holding a press conference on the ban, Commissioner Franz pivoted to using the announcement to fundraise for her re-election campaign, a stinging insult to those employed by the aquaculture industry in the state who are now faced with losing jobs right before the holidays.
On November 23, 2022, DNR declined Cooke’s request for a reasonable amount of time to harvest fish and remove the equipment from the water. DNR arbitrarily agreed to give Cooke 31 additional days to harvest the fish and directed Cooke to remove all the equipment by April 14, 2023. Cooke has repeatedly explained to DNR why these deadlines pose a safety risk to its employees, risks to the environment, and the risk of financial loss in the form of destroyed crops. DNR has repeatedly and arbitrarily ignored these explanations.
DNR’s refusal to renew Cooke’s leases was punitive, arbitrary, and contrary to extensive scientific research completed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”), DNR’s sister agency that has primary responsibility to ensure the health of wild fish stocks in Washington. WDFW’s research concluded that farming of rainbow trout in Washington waters, as proposed by Cooke, would not have probable significant adverse impacts to the environment, and those conclusions were unanimously affirmed by the Washington Supreme Court in January of this year.
The decision is unjustified given the State Legislature’s confirmation that native species of fish can be farmed in Washington’s waters and the extensive work done by Cooke and multiple state agencies, including WDFW, to strengthen the regulatory framework governing marine farms. Cooke has enthusiastically worked collaboratively and transparently with regulatory agencies to identify areas of improvement and implement regulatory and monitoring processes to ensure that its operations meet and exceed the highest standards.
The Rich Passage and Hope Island farms have been present at the same locations for more than 40 years, with multiple lease renewals being granted by DNR to previous operators. Scientific studies and monitoring data have consistently shown that the Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farms do not have an adverse impact on the environment. The fish grown by Cooke are the exact strain of sterile rainbow trout used by WDFW to stock lakes and rivers throughout Washington.
The trout farms are an important part of domestic food production and are needed to curb a massive seafood deficit where 90% of seafood consumed in the United States is imported. Wild fish catches cannot meet the projected demand for seafood, and aquaculture is essential to preserving wild fisheries.
Given the deplorable actions of Commissioner Franz and DNR, Cooke has filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the State of Washington to appeal the lease renewal denial, to protect its employees, the environment, and its legal rights. Cooke is also seeking a preliminary injunction to secure a reasonable period of time to safely harvest the fish and remove the equipment remaining at the Rich Passage and Hope Island sites. Upon hearing the evidence and reviewing the files and records Cooke has asked the court to compel DNR and Commissioner Franz to produce, Cooke is confident that the court will conclude that DNR had no basis in law or science to deny the Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farm lease renewal applications.
Vice President Public Relations
Cooke Aquaculture Inc. / for Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, LLC.
40 Wellington Row, Saint John, NB, Canada E2L 3H3
+1-506-694-4939 office / +1-506-721-1093 mobile