Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation banning Atlantic salmon net pens in Washington on Thursday, as Tim Eyman moved to take the issue to a public vote.
Tim Eyman has filed documents with the Washington secretary of state calling for a public vote on legislation phasing out Atlantic salmon net-pen farming in Washington.
One referendum puts the entire bill, HB 2957, up for a public vote. Another would put on the ballot portions of the bill calling for a phaseout of the industry by 2025, and further study on environmental effects of Atlantic salmon net-pen farming.
Proponents must gather 129,811 valid signatures by June 6 to certify the referendums for the November ballot.
Eyman — known in Washington politics for championing public initiatives concerning taxes and fees — declined requests for an interview about his first foray into an environmental topic.
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Joel Richardson, spokesman for Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, said the company had nothing to do with Eyman or his referendums.
“We have no affiliation with this individual or his initiative, nor is this a direction we are taking,” Richardson wrote in an email to The Seattle Times.
Inslee signed the net-pen phaseout bill Thursday. He vetoed one section that called for revisiting the issue as new science becomes available.
Richardson said in a prepared statement: “While our company and our rural sea farming employees are deeply disappointed by the Governor’s decision to ignore the science and sign the bill, we will certainly respect the wishes of the Legislature.
“Our employees remain our top priority, and Cooke Aquaculture Pacific will continue to take the time we need to fully evaluate our operations and investments in Washington and explore all our available options. We will also continue to work with tribal, state and community partners.”
Proponents of the ban cheered the bill and said they intend to stay in the fight until Atlantic salmon net pens are out of the water.
About 12,000 individuals and 109 businesses and organizations signed a petition to Inslee asking him to ban net-pen farming of Atlantic salmon.
“This is a huge win for the public and an even greater win for wild fish,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy, a nonprofit that has sued Cooke over the net pen breach.
Cooke also fought the issue hard, hiring at least six lobbyists and spending more than $72,000 to defeat the law in the Legislature. The company also urged thousands of people to write their lawmakers to defend Atlantic salmon farming in Washington and rural jobs supported by the industry. The company has an $8.5 million payroll in Washington.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, leading backer of the legislation in the senate, said he didn’t think the referendums would gather the needed signatures to make the ballot.
“They are going to be hard-pressed to get the signatures for something that had so much support in Washington state,” Ranker said. “People actually wanted an outright ban, and a ban on all net-pen farming, not just Atlantic salmon. This had overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers.”
The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 31-16 and the House on a vote of 67-31.
Cooke was wholly to blame for the release of as many as 263,000 Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound when its salmon farm at Cypress Island collapsed last August, and also misled state agencies about the cause and size of the breach, three state agencies found after a four-month investigation.
The state Department of Ecology also fined the company $332,000 for water quality violations in connection with the net-pen break, caused by negligence and poor maintenance, according to the agencies. The state Department of Natural Resources has terminated the company’s Atlantic salmon-farm leases at Cypress Island, as well as at Port Angeles, because of lease violations.
Cooke is fighting the lease termination in Port Angeles in court.
The company also has said it will sue to recover its more than $70 million invested in its Washington Atlantic salmon farms, under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Cooke is a $2.5 billion privately held Canadian corporation, with operations in six countries. The company issued a statement after the passage of the net-pen ban reiterating its commitment to its employees and its Washington operations.
“We remain committed to supporting Washington’s community, economy and marine ecology,” the company stated in a news release. “And we will do so with a deep respect for the value and importance of native salmon to Washingtonians in general, and to the heritage, identity and culture of the Northwest Treaty Tribes in particular.”
Cooke maintains its operations are safe, and provide 600 jobs directly and indirectly associated with its farms.
Tribes have been fierce opponents of Cooke’s operations. Nearly every tribal chairman in Washington signed a letter to state lawmakers asking for the ban, declaring Atlantic salmon net-pen farming a threat to their livelihoods and cultures based on native Pacific salmon.
Beardslee, of Wild Fish Conservancy, said the group is already gearing up to challenge the ballot title. “You can use the title to manipulate and confuse people.
“We want to make sure he doesn’t do that,” Beardslee said of Eyman.
The referendums come as the controversy over Atlantic salmon net pens also is heating up in British Columbia, with First Nations occupying fish farms there, and calling for a termination of leases where native people have not given prior free and informed consent for the farms’ operation.
Companies also are challenging open-water farms with land-based operations to avoid the controversies over disease, escapes and pollution that have dogged open-water net-pen Atlantic salmon farming.