The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has authorized Cooke Aquaculture to transport about 1 million juvenile Atlantic salmon from the company's hatchery in Rochester, Wash., to an existing net-pen facility in Puget Sound.
Eric Kinne, the manager of WDFW's hatchery division, said the transport permit is not related to the company's Cypress Island net-pen facility near the San Juan Islands, where one of Cooke's pens collapsed on Aug. 19 and released tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound and nearby waters.
Following the net pen collapse, Gov. Jay Inslee directed that no permits be issued for new aquaculture net pens while the incident was being investigated. However, current laws and administrative rules do not give state regulators the authority to deny Cooke's permit to move healthy fish into an existing net pen. The Governor's Office asked Cooke to withdraw its permit application and expressed disappointment that the company chose to proceed while thousands of escaped Atlantic salmon remain unrecovered.
Cooke, which operates net pens at eight locations in Puget Sound, applied in late August for permission to move about 1 million 2-year-old smolts from the hatchery to its Rich Passage facility in south Puget Sound. The move is expected to take place through the fall.
WDFW issued the fish transport permit late Monday, Oct. 2, after working to ensure the company's facilities at Rich Passage met structural, water quality, and fish health requirements. Staff from WDFW and the departments of Natural Resources and Ecology visited the net-pen site last week. Ecology staff inspected the facility and did not find violations of the current water quality permit. Divers hired by DNR examined the net pens and support structures below the surface at Clam Bay along Rich Passage. The inspection did not yield grounds to deny the permit.
The Cypress Island incident remains under investigation, and efforts continue to recover the fish that escaped. About half of the 305,000 fish from the collapsed pen are thought to have escaped.