Dow Constantine said he is proposing the ban to the Metropolitan King County Council because of the spill at Cooke Aquaculture's salmon net pen at Cypress Island last August.

Share story

King County Executive Dow Constantine is calling for a six-month moratorium on Atlantic salmon net-pen aquaculture along the shores of unincorporated King County.

Constantine said he is proposing the ban to the Metropolitan King County Council because of the spill at Cooke Aquaculture’s salmon net pen at Cypress Island last August, unleashing invasive, non-native Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound. More than 105,000 of the 8-10-pound fish were never captured, and were reported by fishermen all over Puget Sound and beyond. By now the fish are presumed dead.  But concerns about the long-term effect of the spill remain.

“The … farmed, invasive Atlantic salmon that spilled into the Salish Sea in August threaten our native fish populations and our way of life,” Constantine said in a news release. “Atlantic salmon don’t belong here. Beyond a six month moratorium, we need to ensure these operations can never again pose a threat to indigenous salmon already struggling to survive.”

Constantine transmitted legislation enacting the moratorium to the council on Monday. Net-pen operators are required to obtain federal and state permits. Local governments may also require permits as part of implementing shoreline master plans. There are no Atlantic salmon farms operating along King County shorelines now.

The proposed moratorium enables the county to prevent any such farms from being permitted as the county undertakes a state-mandated review and update of the county’s shoreline master plan. That update could include a permanent ban on Atlantic salmon net-pen farms.

Cooke Aquaculture, based in New Brunswick, Canada, operates eight salmon net-pen farms in Washington waters. State legislators will consider a phase-out of Atlantic salmon net-pen farming in Washington waters this legislative session, under which permits after expiring could not be renewed. The leases expire on different dates with the latest expiration in 2025.

A net pen is a large enclosure anchored to the seabed in which Atlantic salmon — as many as 305,000 to a pen — are grown from juvenile to adult size, fed on pellets cast into the water. Controversy about net-pen aquaculture centers on concern about escapes, pollution, and competition with native-salmon runs.

Washington is the only state on the U.S. West Coast in which Atlantic salmon farming is practiced. Alaska and California have banned net-pen aquaculture of Atlantics, and Oregon has no net-pen industry. Cooke bought its farms in Washington last year from Icicle Sea Foods with hope of expansion. However, there is a state moratorium on any new Atlantic salmon aquaculture permits as the state completes its investigation of the August incident.

That investigation is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Nell Halse, spokeswoman for Cooke, said the company is not likely to be looking to King County for any opportunities.