Aquaculture North America

Cooke lawsuit challenges lease termination

January 8, 2018
By Liza Mayer

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific is suing the Department of Natural Resources for terminating the company’s longstanding lease to operate a salmon farm in Port Angeles, Washington.

Cooke’s lawsuit contends that the decision to terminate the lease, which was made by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, is not supported by the facts and will unnecessarily result in the loss of scarce rural jobs.  

The company filed the lawsuit on January 4 in Clallam County Superior Court. It said DNR’s lease termination, announced in a “surprise filing” during the late afternoon hours on Friday, December 15, “was based on erroneous and outdated information about the condition of the facility.”

“DNR’s decision to terminate Cooke’s lease came as surprise to Cooke in part because DNR approved the transfer of the lease to Cooke in 2016 knowing that the mooring lines extended outside of the lease area and without notifying Cooke that this might constitute grounds for termination,” the company said in a statement.

“Cooke Aquaculture Pacific acquired the Washington salmon farms when it purchased Icicle Seafoods in 2016”, explained Joel Richardson, Vice President for Public Relations at Cooke Aquaculture. “The Department of Natural Resources, then led by Commissioner Franz’s predecessor, approved the transfer of those farm leases at that time and raised no concerns or objections to the manner in which Cooke’s predecessor company was managing the leased aquatic area. We can only assume that the recent decision to terminate the Port Angeles lease is based upon misinformation or a misunderstanding of the facts and history related to this site.”

Cooke representatives are hoping to meet with Commissioner Hillary Franz later this month to discuss the basis for DNR’s decision to terminate its Port Angeles lease and to further address or answer questions the Commissioner may have about Cooke’s operations.

“While we regret the need to file suit before meeting with the Commissioner, we were required to do so in order to protect the company’s legal rights,” Richardson said. “Nonetheless, Cooke believes that a fulsome dialogue with DNR, which it regards as a long-standing partner in its recently acquired Washington aquaculture program, can likely resolve any legitimate, substantive factual issues between the parties. If those issues cannot be amicably resolved by dialogue with the Commissioner then we are prepared to assert our legal rights by way of the judicial system.”

The company said that in addition to the direct impact the proposed lease termination will have on Cooke, the lease termination will also cause hardworking people to lose their jobs and face the financial uncertainty resulting from unemployment. The lease termination will also negatively impact efforts to create greater economic opportunity for those living in the Port Angeles/Port Townsend area.

File photo of a Cooke Aquaculture facility in Washington State.

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