Washington Orders Atlantic Salmon Farm To Shut Down After Finding 'Serious Safety Problems'

Dec 18, 2017

More trouble for the Canadian company that let 160,000 of its Atlantic salmon escape into Puget Sound this summer: Washington state officials announced Sunday that they had terminated Cooke Aquaculture's lease for its fish farm in Port Angeles after finding “serious safety problems” there.

In an emailed response, Cooke vice president Joel Richardson said the multinational company will use “all means at our disposal to protect our ability to continue to operate at this farm site.”

Cooke raises Atlantic salmon at four locations around western Washington, as well as in Maine, Canada, Chile and Scotland. It took over the Washington locations last year after buying Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods.

After Cooke's floating farm near Anacortes collapsed in August, the Washington Department of Natural Resources started inspecting the company’s other Washington locations.

DNR officials inspected the Port Angeles operation Dec. 4-9 and reported finding two disconnected anchor chains and a third that was weakened, with an open link.

A typical salmon farm, a floating structure that can be bigger than a football field, with 50-foot-deep nets, is held in place by 20 or more anchors.

 “Having chains missing and/or structurally compromised was a public health hazard,” DNR spokesperson Carlo Davis said.

DNR informed Cooke late Friday afternoon that its lease had been terminated.

“Replacement anchors were already in place before we received DNR’s December 15 default and termination notice,” Richardson’s email stated on Sunday.

Related: 911 call on Atlantic salmon farm: 'The whole thing is buckling'

State inspectors said Cooke also missed two state-issued 2016 deadlines by more than a year:

- Cooke still hasn’t replaced an old Styrofoam float that keeps much of the fish farm bobbing at the surface.

- Net-pen anchor lines still stretch hundreds of feet outside the leased area of the Strait of Juan de Fuca that Cooke pays the state about $105,000 a year to use.

Richardson said the state has known about the anchor locations for nearly 20 years.

Related: Salmon Escape From Fish Farm Puts Spotlight On The 'Day In, Day Out Impact Of These Things'

His email said that the state first notified Cooke that the anchor locations were problematic in November and the company was still waiting to hear back from DNR about its proposed solution.

Richardson said the state had acted punitively without fully understanding the facts or contacting Cooke beforehand.

Cooke’s two net-pen structures off Port Angeles hold an estimated 700,000 Atlantic salmon. 

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