Five years ago, Island County commissioners banned net-pen salmon farming in the county.
It wasn’t an easy move for commissioners since it involved taking on the state. The state Department of Ecology initially said that the Shoreline Management Act would require the county to allow net-pen aquaculture. After much negotiating, the Department of Ecology reversed its decision and said the county could ban fish farming from its waters — but only temporarily.
The county commissioners came out against net pens after hearing overwhelming public support for proposed restriction on fish farming, which many felt was potentially harmful to the environment and an accident waiting to happen.
The accident happened Aug. 19 off of Cypress Island, located across Guemes Channel from Anacortes. Due to a purported lack of maintenance, 110 tons of mussels and plants accumulated and caused a pen collapse that released about 250,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, the Department of Natural Resources, Ecology and Fish and Wildlife said in a joint report.
State lawmakers now see the wisdom in the stand Island County and other Puget-Sound-region counties took against this type of aquaculture.
Last week, the state Senate passed a bill to protect the state’s waters by phasing out Atlantic salmon net-pen farming by prohibiting the Department of Natural Resources from entering into a new lease or other aquatic lands use authorization that involves Atlantic salmon. Additionally, DNR would not be allowed to renew or extend an existing lease that involves Atlantic salmon farming.
Existing leases would terminate by 2025.
More than two thirds of the Senate voted in favor of the bill, including Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed the bill, saying net-pen farming is “a risk that is intolerable.”
The bill heads to the House, where lawmakers should follow suit and pass it as soon as possible. The risk that net pens and Atlantic salmon pose to native salmon is just too great.