Northwest News

Here’s how Ecology hopes to prevent a repeat of the 2017 Atlantic salmon pen collapse

The Washington Department of Ecology has a plan to prevent an incident similar to the 2017 pen collapse that allowed 250,000 Atlantic salmon to escape into the Puget Sound from ever happening again.

According to a release sent out on Thursday, July 11, Ecology will strengthen the environmental protections for remaining net pen operations in the Puget Sound, updating permits to require salmon farms to step up their monitoring, inspections and reporting and to have emergency response plans.

This plan is in place until a law to phase out non-native species of marine fish farming begins in 2022.

Cooke Aquaculture, which is the only company raising Atlantic salmon in the Puget Sound, according to the release, applied to renew its water quality permits for its one pen near Hope Island in Skagit Bay and its three pens in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island.

Under the current law, Cooke Aquaculture could have continued to operate under the outdated permits until 2022 if Ecology hadn’t updated the permits.

According to the release, the new permits require:

Increased underwater video monitoring of the pens.

Conducting inspections regularly, assessing to the structural integrity of the pens.

Submitting certified inspection reports to Ecology.

Improving maintenance of the net pens along with their cleaning and maintenance procedures.

Requiring Cooke Aquaculture to coordinate with area tribes and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop site-specific response plans if fish escape.

Conducting and participating in preparedness training.

Keeping updated contact information to notify area tribes and state agencies if fish escape.

Also, the release said because Atlantic salmon and their food are considered pollutants, Cooke Aquamarine is required to update its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination permits, which restrict pollution through required motoring, managing and reporting.