State upholds Cooke Aquaculture Pacific lease termination

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“Thank you to Judge Murphy for upholding the right of my agency to terminate this lease”.

Cooke’s legal tug of war with authorities continues as a Superior Court ruling has now upheld the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) termination of the Port Angeles aquaculture lease, Washington, USA, which it was aiming to operate in.

Glenn Cooke’s company announced in October that it wanted to rear sablefish (black cod) and sterile triploid, all-female rainbow in a joint venture with Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council at the site. In January, The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved the company’s permit in Port Angeles. But now Thurston County Superior Court has maintained the termination, putting the salmon/trout farmer back to square one.

Cooke had leases terminated in 2017 when a ten-cage net-pen rearing 305,000 salmon off Cypress Island in northern Puget Sound collapsed. Cooke’s appeal of that lease termination is currently pending in Superior Court.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific said it would appeal the ruling.

Reporting on the story, the Seattle Times wrote that the company still needs approval from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow it to farm steelhead or black cod at the pen as the current lease for the pen is for farming Atlantic salmon only.

Which is problematic for Cooke, as Commissioner of Public Lands (DNR) Hilary Franz, the politician who originally terminated the salmon farmer’s lease is the gateway to getting that approval. Franz tweeted her support of the decision: “Thank you to Judge Murphy for upholding the right of my agency to terminate this lease. My duty is to ensure that no company endangers the health of Washington’s waters, which support our culture, economy and struggling native salmon”.

In response, The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA), a body representing aquaculture interests in the Pacific Northwest, wrote it was “saddened” in a statement.

“While the NWAA respects the decision of the Thurston County Superior Court ruling, we are nonetheless disappointed,” said John Dentler, NWAA President. “Moreover, we are deeply disappointed and saddened that the DNR chose to terminate an aquaculture lease that produces healthy seafood in an area where traditional stocks are in trouble, while also creating family-wage jobs in rural areas where they are desperately needed,” he said.

“Commissioner Hilary Franz often talks about using her authority to leverage our natural resources to produce jobs in rural areas,” he noted, “but sadly, her actions depart from her promises. This is a case where DNR could have chosen to work with the joint venture partners, CAP and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, to ensure that DNR’s current and future conditions were fully met—but chose not to do so.”

“In an era where other U.S. states such as Maine, Hawaii, Florida, and even Michigan are fully developing their aquaculture potential, we find it puzzling that this resource and people-rich state has decided not to follow such a path,” added Dentler.