A big corporation can get what it wants even in a state that prides itself on environmentalism and uses native salmon as icons.

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Surely I wasn’t the only one surprised that 100,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into Puget Sound from a fish farm. Surprised there are such operations — big ones — and surprised the salmon jailbreak showed how easily this invasive fish could get loose and compete for food and spread who-knows-what to the native species Northwesterners claim to so prize.

But Washington’s environmental ethos is apparently no match for the likes of Cooke Aquaculture, owner of eight Puget Sound fish farms, including the one where the net failed. Headquartered in New Brunswick, Canada, Cooke is the largest Atlantic salmon fish farming operation in North America. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that state Department of Fish and Wildlife approved a permit for the company to add another 1 million Atlantic salmon to its eight facilities here.

My colleague Lynda V. Mapes reported that the agency did this in spite of Gov. Jay Inslee calling for no new fish farms until the escape was investigated. “Several state agencies examined the company’s operations there and could not find grounds on which to deny the permit,” according to the news release. The permit was granted Monday. The key point apparently is that this is not a new farm, but a “routine” expansion.

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, had a different take: “This ordeal created a disaster and an emergency for our tribe. We are deeply saddened that the state of Washington and this foreign corporation are willing to take a business-as-usual attitude. We should be putting our efforts at finding those fish that escaped rather than putting in 1 million more.”

I’m with him. While Cooke no doubt fills a need for feeding a growing world, is it appropriate to be farming these fish in open-water pens, held back by nets, in Puget Sound? It’s especially dissonant considering how much sweat and money taxpayers have invested in trying to preserve and bring back native salmon here — an enterprise that is far from completion and at greater risk because of climate change.

It’s most telling that Washington is the only West Coast state that allows these farms.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying anyone was bribed or even necessarily threatened. Ballew gets to the heart of the matter when he says “business as usual.” It’s that kind of indifference and inertia that can be as bad as corruption.


Today’s Econ Haiku:

Shiny new tower

Bags Amazon as prime catch

HQ2 take note

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