Aquaculture North America

Lawsuit opposes Cooke permit to farm steelhead in Puget Sound

February 12, 2020
By ANA staff

Puget Sound (Source:

Conservation and environmental groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the decision by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to permit Cooke Aquaculture to raise steelhead in Puget Sound net pens.

The groups, consisting of the Center for Biological Diversity, Wildfish Conservancy, Center for Food Safety, and Friends of the Earth, issued a statement announcing the lawsuit saying the state agencies “failed to evaluate the scientific evidence that these fish feedlots would harm federally listed steelhead, salmon and Southern Resident killer whales, degrade water quality and damage the overall health of Puget Sound.”

The department issued the new permit to Cooke Aquaculture, allowing the Canadian aquaculture producer to farm all-female, sterile rainbow trout/steelhead in Puget Sound.

The group alleges that the new permit will allow Cooke to “exploit a loophole in the legislative phaseout by raising steelhead rather than Atlantic salmon.” The state of Washington passed legislation in 2018 banning Atlantic salmon net pen farming by 2022, following the escape of some 250,000 Atlantic salmon at Cooke’s Cypress Island farm in 2017.


“Washington state needs to stop giving away our public waters and wild species to private interests — factory fish farms do not belong in Puget Sound,” said Amy van Saun, an attorney with Center for Food Safety’s Pacific Northwest office and co-counsel in the case. “Washington officials are accountable not just to industry, but to the people of Washington, who want wild coasts and invaluable species protected from companies that do not respect our special places.”

The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance’s (NWAA) executive director, Jeanne McKnight, called the lawsuit a “desperate, last-ditch effort” to delay a project which has gone through scientific review and public input. NWAA released McKnight’s statement on Feb. 12 in which said the lawsuit proves that these groups “place ideology over sound science.”

“The current project to raise sterile rainbow trout in Puget Sound will benefit not just the local economy where family-wage jobs are desperately needed, but also the people of the state of Washington, who want locally produced seafood at prices they can afford,” McKnight said in a statement. “It’s a sad day when ill-informed activists can file a frivolous lawsuit to halt to a project that has undergone such a rigorous review.”

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