According to a press release from Cooke Aquaculture, the DNR order declined to renew two rainbow trout farming leases at Rich Passage and Hope Island in Puget Sound in November 2022. It also demanded that Cooke harvest all fish and remove all farm equipment from the sites within 30 days. In the company’s view, the lease application denials were the culmination of Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s five-year quest to “bury” Cooke and destroy aquaculture in Washington. Days later, Franz implemented an executive action that banned commercial fish farming in the state.
On 23 November 23 2022, DNR declined Cooke’s request for a reasonable amount of time to harvest fish and remove the equipment from the water. The state body agreed to give the company an additional 31 days to harvest the fish and directed Cooke to remove their farm equipment by 14 April 2023. The news release explains that Cooke communicated its concerns with the deadline, saying that they posed a safety risk to Cooke employees, risks to the environment as well as financial losses in the form of destroyed crops. Cooke maintains that the DNR has disregarded these concerns.
A statement from the company reads:
“DNR’s refusal to renew Cooke’s leases was punitive, arbitrary and contrary to extensive scientific research completed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”), DNR’s sister agency that has primary responsibility to ensure the health of wild fish stocks in Washington. WDFW’s research concluded that farming of rainbow trout in Washington waters, as proposed by Cooke, would not have probable significant adverse impacts to the environment, and those conclusions were unanimously affirmed by the Washington Supreme Court in January of this year.
“The decision is unjustified given the State Legislature’s confirmation that native species of fish can be farmed in Washington’s waters and the extensive work done by Cooke and multiple state agencies, including WDFW, to strengthen the regulatory framework governing marine farms. Cooke has enthusiastically worked collaboratively and transparently with regulatory agencies to identify areas of improvement and implement regulatory and monitoring processes to ensure that its operations meet and exceed the highest standards.
“The Rich Passage and Hope Island farms have been present at the same locations for more than 40 years, with multiple lease renewals being granted by DNR to previous operators. Scientific studies and monitoring data have consistently shown that the Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farms do not have an adverse impact on the environment. The fish grown by Cooke are the exact strain of sterile rainbow trout used by WDFW to stock lakes and rivers throughout Washington.”
In response to the DNR decision, Cooke has filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the State of Washington to, “appeal the lease renewal denial, to protect its employees, the environment and its legal rights.” The company is also seeking a preliminary injunction to secure a reasonable period of time to safely harvest the fish and remove the equipment remaining at the Rich Passage and Hope Island sites.
“Upon hearing the evidence and reviewing the files and records Cooke has asked the court to compel DNR and Commissioner Franz to produce, Cooke is confident that the court will conclude that DNR had no basis in law or science to deny the Rich Passage and Hope Island fish farm lease renewal applications,” their statement concludes.