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Cooke: Net pen aquaculture ban in Puget Sound will be a mistake

Cooke Aquaculture is making sure its voice is heard at a public hearing January 9 that will discuss a bill calling for a ban on any new leases for net pen aquaculture in Washington State.

Senate Bill 6086, sponsored by Sen Kevin Ranker, would effectively end the operations of Cooke Aquaculture in the Puget Sound. The company is the only commercial salmon farming company permitted to operate in the area.

Ranker’s proposal stems from the salmon escape incident at a Cooke Aquaculture farm in Washington State in August. Major concerns over such incidents include the spread of parasites and pathogens to wild stocks.

But Joel Richardson, Vice President of Public Relations for Cooke Aquaculture, is urging legislators to make decisions based on best available science and not on unfounded fears. “We acknowledge that the fish escapement prompted some understandable fears and concerns about the impact of Atlantic salmon on the health of native stocks, but we are urging lawmakers to recognize that these fears are not borne out by the history or the best available science.”

He emphasized that banning a legal operation such as Cooke’s “would be a draconian response and a very unfortunate mistake.”

Cooke, he said, has been providing  “sustainable and affordable source of locally-grown protein, represents tens of millions of dollars of investment in the state and has provided good, family-wage jobs in rural Puget Sound for over 30 years.”

He added that Cooke is taking responsibility for the "regrettable incident" and is addressing it.  For instance, Cooke is supportive of other legislative approaches to the issue, which include a review of all existing aquaculture regulations, regular inspections of net-pen facilities, and a local academic study of net-pen aquaculture and its impacts on the ecology.
 
“We are prepared to put forth suggestions for best regulatory practices that have worked in other states like Maine and in locations all around the world,” said Richardson. “Cooke has offered to help fund a scientific review of net pen aquaculture and the impacts of accidental escapes.  And Cooke is willing to explore ways to help the State improve native fish runs and augment state and tribal hatchery operations. We’ve been in Washington state for a little over a year now, but our company is one of the best in the world when it comes to both, and we want to share our experience and expertise to ensure that Puget Sound waters continue to have fish for tribes and commercial fisheries to fish for generations to come.”
 
Richardson said banning Cooke’s ability to continue its operations forecloses these possibilities.