Supporters of salmon farming in the State of Washington are urging Governor Jay Inslee to veto the bill that would ban salmon aquaculture in the state.

HB 2957, which the state legislature passed on Friday with a vote of 31-16, will end state leases and permits for Atlantic salmon operations when current leases expire in 2022.

The Washington Fish Growers Association (WFGA) called the decision “Ill-conceived and politically motivated rather than based on the best available science.”

The bill now awaits Gov Inslee’s signature, who earlier has expressed support for the bill.

“We are appealing to Governor Inslee, a strong believer in science, to use his veto powers to put this nonsensical, punitive legislation to rest,” said Dan Swecker, Executive Director of the WFGA.

Canadian company Cooke Aquaculture, which has hired a number of lobbyists to help campaign against the bill, is threatening to sue the state under the North American Free Trade Agreement to recover its $76 million investment in Washington should the bill pass.

Joel Richardson, vice president for public relations at Cooke said earlier that “Cooke, as a Canadian foreign investor, has a credible claim for mandatory arbitration under NAFTA, which would compensate Cooke for our $70-plus million investment in Washington state, plus damages.”
The Washington State Legislature on Friday voted to pass HB 2957, which would end state leases and permits for Atlantic salmon operations when current leases expire in 2022.

The Senate passed the bill on a 31-16 vote and it now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for signing, who earlier expressed his support for the bill.

The bill’s passage signals defeat for Cooke Aquaculture, which has fought hard against it. ““We are deeply disappointed in the action taken by the Legislature today and the potential impact it could have on Washington’s 30-year salmon-farming industry and the more than 600 rural workers and their families that rely upon salmon farming for their livelihoods. Our employees remain our top priority, and we wish to extend our thanks and appreciation to the many lawmakers who have consistently advocated on their behalf during this process,” said the company’s Vice President of Public Relations, Joel Richardson.

He said that as an immediate next step, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific will take the time it needs to fully evaluate its operations and investments in Washington and explore all options available to it.

Earlier, several concerned scientists wrote an Open Letter to the Washington Legislature asking for the opportunity to provide a science briefing prior to a vote on House Bill 2957. Aquaculture industry officials have also urged lawmakers to base their decision facts rather than anti-farming propaganda and misinformation.
Difficulty in securing permits in federal waters is holding back mariculture development, according to Dr Jerry Schubel, the president and CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.
An algal bloom detected in December has forced the shutdown of all but four shellfish aquaculture operations along the south coast of Maine.

The area between Dyer Point in Cape Elizabeth and Basin Point in Harpswell has been impacted by amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).

Only those with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department are allowed to sell their product during a closure,” says Jeff Nichols, Director of Communications for the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Only four operators have an MOU with the department, he says.

The MOU requires intensive testing of product from the farms. Samples showing domoic acid levels of 20 parts per million in shellfish meat tissue are declared unsafe for consumption and cannot be sold.Domoic acid is the toxin that causes ASP.

Nichols says the impact from this closure is less significant than the 2016 closure, wherein dealers throughout the supply chain had to destroy 58,080 lbs of mussels harvested in the Frenchman Bay area.

The cause or causes of these algal blooms are a major question for the scientific community, says Nichols.

“While the phytoplankton associated with ASP has been detected in Maine waters for many years, 2017 was only the second year in which domoic acid reached levels that triggered closures,” says Nichols. “So scientists are still trying to determine what causes cell concentrations of the phytoplankton Pseudo-nitzschia to increase and become toxic.”

As a result of the 2016 closures, Nichols says the DMR has begun testing for domoic acid when cell counts of Pseudo-nitzschia were lower in phytoplankton samples. If the test showed domoic acid, the department would begin testing shellfish immediately, as opposed to waiting a week as had been the standard based on past experiences with red tide.

“DMR also began to monitor for different species groups of Pseudo-nitzschia in order to determine more closely when the different species become toxic,” says Nichols. That research will be considered as Maine works to improve its ability to predict toxicity and avoid recalls.

A team of researchers at the Universities of Connecticut and New Hampshire have authored a kelp growing manual that provides a practical application of the decades of research on kelp production from those two schools.

The “New England Seaweed Culture Handbook, Nursery Systems” was published by Connecticut Sea Grant with the objective of supporting the expansion of seaweed production along North American coast lines.

Led by Dr Charles Yarish at UConn and Dr Christopher Neefus, U. of New Hampshire, the handbook outlines nursery production and production techniques for four economically and ecologically valuable seaweeds of New England - the locally occurring species of Saccharina (sugar kelp), Gracilaria (red seaweed), Porphyra (Nori) and Chondrus (Irish Moss).

Developing seed techniques is the first hurdle for growing kelp and the manual addresses that need. Yarish and other team members have developed growout techniques together with New England growers.  

Connecticut-based cooperative Green aims to expand kelp farming and it is developing “3-D Ocean Farming,” which is perfecting co-culture techniques using shellfish and kelp together on the same site.

There is room for growth as FAO figures show that in 2014, only 54,000 tons of seaweed were cultivated in the Americas and Europe with an annual value of $51 million. That is less than the $67 million value of seaweed products that the US imported from Korea that same year.

The Executive Director of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA), Margaret Barrette, sees the tide-to-table trend strengthening in the shellfish industry.

“The oyster bar experience and being able to sample a variety of oysters from different locations is becoming extremely popular,” she says.

The trend has boosted half-shell sales. Several oyster companies have moved into the restaurant market and are able to control production from farm to plate. Washington’s Taylor Shellfish has four restaurants in Washington State and one in Vancouver BC, while Hog Island has led the industry in California for several years with three off-site oyster bars.

“It really gives companies direct control over the quality of product that is delivered to the consumer,” says Barrette. “I think we will see more of it, although it certainly requires a different skill set than farming.”  

Barrette also sees the adoption of IMTA techniques by the industry as one trend that could also strengthen. IMTA, or Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, is a process of combining the culture of a fed species (i.e. salmon) with other, extractive species such as shellfish and seaweed, or invertebrates such as sea cucumbers. In the shellfish industry, Barrette sees the co-cultivation of species such as oysters and kelp as being an important direction.

Innovative partnerships are also trending up. I’m really interested to watch the innovative partnerships that several harbor districts are initiating,” says Barrette. She is referring to ventures and programs that a number of ports in the United States have initiated in recent years aimed at advancing aquaculture.

For instance, the Humboldt Bay Harbour District in California plans to go through the permitting process for aquaculture plots and then lease the “pre-permitted” property to farmers with the goal of encouraging future aquaculture production in the Bay.

“Permitting is a huge issue for our members as people are still reluctant to allow this use of the land,” says Barrette. “It’s a long, complicated and costly process.”

The Port of San Diego champions water-dependent businesses such as aquaculture and has established the Aquaculture and Blue Tech Program in 2016 to support them. Portland, Maine Redevelopment meanwhile has launched a plan that seeks to transform the municipal pier into incubator for aquaculture enterprises.

“You wouldn’t think of a port as getting into the shellfish business but they have so much infrastructure already in place,” says Barrette, “Its really exciting.”

Offshore farming is one direction that she sees strengthening as well. Catalina Sea Ranch is the first offshore shellfish farm permitted in United States federal waters.

Legislation that would ban Atlantic salmon farming in the state of Washington did not pass the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific applauded the demise of SB 6086 and says it will seek to amend HB 2957 in Senate to protect salmon farming’s rural workforce. It believes SB 6086’s demise “effectively dooms the bill for the legislative session.”

“We thank the members of the committee for their wisdom in not advancing this job-killing measure, and we want to thank the committee chair, Rep. Brian Blake, in particular,” said Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, the sole operator of Atlantic salmon farms in Washington after purchasing the state’s 30-year farming facilities in 2016.

“Banning the state’s 30-year salmon farming industry because of the regrettable accident at Cypress Island last summer would eliminate the hundreds or rural jobs directly and indirectly supported by these farms and would do so without scientific justification. As the Department of Fish & Wildlife has concluded, the escaped fish pose no threat to wild salmon and banning farmed salmon would not add a single wild salmon back in Puget Sound – but it would needlessly terminate the livelihood of hundreds of Washington rural families.

In testimony before the committee yesterday, Richardson explained that the fish escapement at Cypress Island was not larger than several other previous escapements that occurred when Washington’s salmon farms were held under domestic ownership – none of which resulted in attempts to ban the industry or cancel the farms’ leases. Similarly, previous pipeline explosions, refinery accidents, oil spills or floods of raw sewage that occurred within Washington also did not prompt efforts to ban the domestic companies responsible, even though those incidents resulted in demonstrable harm to fish and/or humans.

“For these reasons, Cooke, as a Canadian foreign investor, has a credible claim for mandatory arbitration under NAFTA, which would compensate Cooke for our $70-plus million investment in Washington state, plus damages,” said Richardson.

After successfully halting the progress of SB 6086, Richardson said Cooke will now take this message to the Senate as it considers House Bill 2957, which is substantially similar to SB 6086. Richardson said the company will seek to address concerns about the potential for farmed salmon to interbreed with native salmon by offering an amendment that restricts salmon farms to raising single-sex female fish.

“Our amendment would completely mitigate the already low risk of interbreeding and colonization between farmed and wild salmon, while preserving our industry and the 600 direct and indirect jobs our industry supports,” Richardson said. “We believe this is a win-win solution, and we are hopeful that a majority of the Senate will find this solution to be a sensible one, not just for Cooke but for all agriculture and marine-based industries in Washington.

Aquaculture industry players are urging lawmakers deciding on the fate of salmon farming in Washington State to base their decision on facts rather than anti-farming propaganda and misinformation.

At the sidelines of Aquaculture America 2018 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Jim Parsons, the president of the National Aquaculture Association, told Aquaculture North America (ANA) that the occurrences in the legislature are driven by emotion rather than science.”

“That’s not something we want to see. From NAA’s standpoint it has to be driven by science, and misinformation and emotion can be problematic,” Parsons said, adding that escapes have happened before and numerous studies have been done on them that show no ill effect from an ecological standpoint.

The Washington Fish Growers Association (WFGA) is calling on lawmakers to vote down any bans on the farming of Atlantic salmon in Washington state waters.

“Given the significant importance of the aquaculture industry to Washington’s rural communities, lawmakers must ensure that both science and economic benefit are front and center,” said Dan Swecker, WFGA’s Executive Director.

Swecker noted many proven science facts that have also been reinforced by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

1.       Atlantic salmon do not inter-breed with Pacific salmon.

2.       Scientists have never observed any Atlantic salmon escapees spawning on the West Coast of North America.

3.       If Atlantic salmon escape from net pens, they do not eat other fish or their natural foods. When their stomachs are examined, they are empty and they perish.

4.       Salmon are raised in a disease-free quarantined hatchery, vaccinated against saltwater diseases, and certified disease-free before they are shipped to net pens. No example of the transfer of disease from farmed salmon to wild fish has ever been documented by a regulatory agency in Washington.

Swecker, a former state senator from Rochester, and one of the pioneers in salmon aquaculture in Washington, also asked members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee at a February 19 hearing in Olympia to understand the significant benefit of aquaculture to the state’s economy.

The Association of Washington Business (AWB) shared those views. Mary Catherine McAleer of AWB told legislators to consider the impact of these family wage rural jobs in high poverty areas before they cast a vote to ban the farming of Atlantic salmon.

Tony Schuur, chairman of the board of the California Aquaculture Association, believes Cooke Aquaculture, the company at the center of the fiasco, didnt do their job but he also believes the regulators didnt do their job. The whole event is a manufactured debacle. And those people that are responsible, I am certain under law are responsible, should be held accountable. As for the new legislation required, I dont see that it is (required), its regulatory overkill, Schuur told ANA.

Salmon and trout producer Cermaq says the survival rate for its fish for the full year 2017 ranged from 94 percent to 96 percent in its farms in Norway, Chile and Canada. In fish health performance, none of the fish harvested in Norway in the last quarter of 2017 had received antibiotic treatment, it said. In Chile and Canada, the use of antibiotics was reduced from the same quarter last year. The company said it aims to further reduce its use of antibiotics. Cermaq also reported it had no escapes in the last quarter of 2017, neither so far in 2018. In terms of Occupational Health and Safety, the company said performance remains strong, with a global absence rate of 2.2 percent. Cermaq started publishing quarterly sustainability results in early 2016.
Japan’s biggest trading house Mitsubishi Corp expects to post its first record profit in 10 years due mainly to the rebound in prices for resources and also to its active management of its subsidiaries like Cermaq. Company president Takehiko Kakiuchi, who assumed the role in April 2016, believes in active involvement in Mitsubishi’s subsidiaries that are expected to help raise Mitsubishi's corporate value. For instance, after acquiring the Norwegian salmon farmer for $1.4 billion in 2014, Mitsubishi sent a chairman and a project development representative to manage the company, reported Nikkei Asian Review. Since 2016, it has had another six officers there, including a sales executive. Cermaq logged a deficit of $65.16 million (7.2 billion yen) in the fiscal year through March 2016, but it more than recovered the following fiscal year with a $136.66 million (15.1 billion yen) surplus the following fiscal year, said the paper. Th
A bill calling for a ban on salmon farms in Washington State has received support from Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Senate.
Norway-based Nordic Aquafarms (NAF) plans to construct a 40-acre land-based Atlantic salmon farm in Belfast, Maine. It will have a 33,000-ton annual production capacity.

Between $450 to 500 million all-in total capital investments will be involved to complete the project, which will be implemented in several phases.

The first phase, with construction planned to start in 2019, will involve investments of up to $150 million. The facility will be an end-to-end operation, including hatcheries and fish processing. It will be the largest land-based facility project ever raised in one construction phase and house the largest aquaculture tanks in the world, the company claimed.

CEO Erik Heim said they are “stepping up investment in highly qualified people and international partnerships.”

The controversial salmon escape incident at a salmon farm in Washington State in August cast a dark shadow over the salmon industry, but developments in the State of Maine are buoying US industry outlook.
The salmon escape incident at Cooke Aquaculture’s farm near Cypress Island in Washington State could have been avoided if Cooke Aquaculture had properly maintained the nets, according to a state investigation.

The company was fined $332,000 for the release of thousands of Atlantic salmon in August, the Washington State Department of Ecology announced Tuesday.

The incident invited new scrutiny on the industry and intensified concerns over the effects of foreign fish on wild Pacific salmon native to the area.

Previous estimates, based on Cooke's reports, put the number of escaped fish at 160,000, but the state probe put the number of escaped salmon at 250,000.

The state investigation also found Cooke poorly cleaned and maintained the nets, failed to follow repair protocols, and paid insufficient attention to engineering.

“This investigation confirms Cooke Aquaculture was negligent in operating its net pen,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a statement. “What’s even worse is that Cooke absolutely could have – and should have – prevented this incident.”

Cooke Aquaculture has issued a statement denouncing the results of the state investigation, saying that it was "incomplete, inaccurate and conducted by investigators with limited experience in aquaculture or net-pen operations.

Cooke Aquaculture issued scathing press release today pre-empting the official announcement of the findings of the investigation into the collapse of the company's salmon net pens in Washington State, due today at 11 am PST.
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