The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on Tuesday approved an application from Cooke Aquaculture to farm all-female, sterile (triploid) rainbow trout/steelhead in Puget Sound.
The five-year permit applies to existing net pens in Puget Sound where Cooke holds valid aquatic land leases with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. This includes four pens currently operating near Rich Passage and Skagit Bay, but may later extend to three other net pens owned by Cooke.
WDFW approved the permit following an extensive State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) public comment period, which saw more than 3,500 comments submitted. WDFW created a detailed document addressing Cooke’s proposal that also serves, in part, as a response to those comments. That document, and other related information, can be found at https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/closed-final.
“We heard from a huge number of stakeholders on this issue, and we appreciate everyone who took time to make their voice heard as part of this process,” said WDFW Deputy Director Amy Windrope. “This permit was approved based on scientific review and is contingent on Cooke complying with strict provisions designed to minimize any risk to native fish species.”
Among those provisions:
- A comprehensive escape prevention, response, and report plan;
- Biennial inspections of net-pen facilities by a WDFW-approved marine engineering firm, to check for structural integrity and permit compliance;
- Immediate reports to WDFW of any escaped fish, as well as a unique marking identifying all commercial aquaculture fish;
- Sampling and testing of smolts before being transferred to marine net pens, to ensure that they are free of disease;
- Annual fish health evaluation reports; and
- Tissue sampling for genetic analysis of broodstock by WDFW.
These are just some of the conditions required under the permit. In addition, Cooke will have to obtain a modification to their National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits from the Washington Department of Ecology, and a transport permit from WDFW prior to any steelhead trout being moved into net pens.
For the full list, see the “mitigating provisions” section in the justification document at https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2020-01/marine_aquaculture_permit_justification.pdf
Cooke first submitted an application to raise steelhead trout in January 2019 in an effort to transition from farming Atlantic salmon in the company’s existing Puget Sound net pens. The company submitted a completed SEPA checklist and supporting documentation to WDFW in July.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting, and perpetuating fish, wildlife, and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing, hunting, and other recreation opportunities.