Legislation to phase out Atlantic salmon net-pen farming passes the state House by a wide margin — but also calls for a study to reconsider the issue.

Share story

House lawmakers Wednesday passed legislation that would phase out Atlantic salmon net-pen farming.

The bill, EHB 2957, waters down a bill passed earlier this month by the Senate. That bill ends net-pen farming of Atlantic salmon as leases to operate the farms from the state Department of Natural Resources expire. The last of those leases expires in 2025.

While the House bill says the Legislature intends a phaseout, it also says it intends to revisit the issue “once additional research becomes available.”

The bill requires study of the industry with input from tribes and academic experts to provide guidance for operations to eliminate escapes and negative effects on water quality, native fish and more. That study is to be concluded with a report to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2019.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill passed the House 67-31. Afterward, Gov. Jay Inslee reiterated his support for phasing out Atlantic salmon farming in Washington.

“A phase out is crucial for salmon recovery, Puget Sound and tribal treaty rights,” Inslee’s spokeswoman Tara Lee wrote to The Seattle Times in an email.

The legislative action in both chambers was triggered by an escape of more than 200,000 Atlantic salmon from Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon farm at Cypress Island last August. State agencies found after an investigation blamed the escape on Cooke’s negligence in inadequately maintaining the fish farm and said that Cooke misled the public and state agencies about the cause and gravity of the escape.

Cooke’s leases also have been terminated at five of its nine pens because of violations revealed in inspections by the state Department of Natural Resources directed by Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, after the August escape.

Cooke, based in Canada, is one of the largest farmers of Atlantic salmon in North America, with 5,000 employees worldwide. The company bought its farms in Washington in 2016 to expand its operations to the U.S. West Coast.

The company has opposed the phase out, defending 181 jobs in Washington associated with the farms.

The House bill also requires net pens to be inspected at least every two years at the company’s expense and provides financial assistance to any dislocated workers.