Apart from anchors, Cooke farms get “passing grade”

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Inspections by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources of Cooke Aquaculture’s nine salmon-farm leases have found that its Rich Passage and Hope Island grow-outs, too, have some anchor problems and signs of some questionable maintenance.

Ominously, but not unexpectedly, the State is again warning of a lease “review”. Cooke has already lost two leases at Cypress Island and Port Angeles after such reviews, although the latter is being contested in court.

State Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, had early on ordered inspections of Cooke’s leases in the Salish Sea. Now, hired inspectors from engineering firm Mott Macdonald and diving outfit Collins have found one ancho chains at one farm had lost “70 percent of their strength” due to poor placement and corrosion while at the other “Maintenance conducted by the owner does not appear in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations or industry standards”.

Read Washington Senate votes to ban salmon-farming

They also noticed the current “caused no observable motion to the net pen”. At Hope Island, where the net pens were built by Wavemaster, part of the AKVA Group, and a company called Marine Construction, key structural elements were given a “satisfactory” rating.

However, “significant displacement of the nets from the vertical (slanting with tide) was observed … due to the current-imposed drag load”, the diving operation found.

Needs new anchor plan: Cooke Aquaculture’s Hope Island farm

At Hope Island, “The net pens are exposed to high loading conditions because of large tidal currents and subject to high debris load (from the Skagit River five miles away),” Mott Macdonald wrote in its report for the DNR.  While much was “satisfactory and good” exceptions were the cracking concrete of a feed barge, damaged mooring clasps and no fenders in use for the work vessel’s arrival.

Read Cooke’s salmon were healthy

Two weeks ago, the State Senate had squeezed a recommendation to inspect all farms into a new bill aimed at killing salmon-farms in the state. It’s a nod to seven more Mott inspections of Cooke’s operations expected in the weeks to come.

Judging by SalmonBusiness’ cursory read of their report, the Mott team had only one major recommendation, a new anchor survey and placement for the Hope Island facility.

Franze, however, might have other ideas.

“After the August 19 net pen collapse at Cypress Island, I ordered inspections of every net pen facility to verify that they are safe and properly maintained,” she Tweeted. “My team will review this new information to determine appropriate next steps regarding the Rich Passage and Hope Island sites.”

In a partial rebuttal to the findings, Cooke stayed on-message, although they are understood to be formulating a fuller response: “We bring best-in-class practices to all of our operations throughout the world, including the latest in technology, infrastructure, research and development. When we acquired the four 30-year farms in Puget Sound in the summer of 2016, we were excited at the opportunity to bring our high standards to Washington.”