Washington Official: Cooke ‘Negligence’ Caused Salmon Escape
Washington state officials have fined a unit of Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture $332,000 for allegedly breaching water quality rules with the August 2017 salmon escape.
In a Jan. 30 press conference, state officials charged with investigating the escape of several thousand salmon blasted the company for its actions prior to the incident, which they claimed, could have been prevented.
“What we can now confirm is that Cooke Aquaculture was negligent,” Maia Bellon, director of Washington state’s Department of Ecology, said during a press conference. “Cooke Aquaculture’s negligence led directly to the Atlantic salmon pen failure in August of 2017. What’s even worse is that Cooke knew they had a problem and didn’t respond appropriately to deal with the problem.”
Cooke Aquaculture Fined for “Failing to Protect Puget Sound”
The escape constituted a “water quality violation” and a “pollution event” and the department will be issuing a $332,000 fine, she said, “for failure to comply with the terms of its water quality permit, the state’s clean water laws and for “failing to protect the Puget Sound”.
Speaking a few moments earlier, Hilary Franz, the state’s commissioner of public lands, said that the investigation revealed that the pen collapse was “entirely preventable”.
“Let me be clear. Cooke’s disregard caused this disaster and recklessly put our state’s ecosystem at risk. Cooke failed to clean their facility properly allowing more than 110 tons of mussels and plants to accumulate on the pens’ nets,” she said. “When tidal currents pushed against this mass of organisms on the nets, the drag overwhelmed the mooring system and crushed the pen”
She said an announcement will be made in the coming days about the future of the Cypress Island site.
Cooke Aquaculture said shortly before the press conference that the investigation report was full of “factual inaccuracies.”
Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, a subsidiary of the parent company, issued a statement on Tuesday morning that jumped out ahead of the press conference.
Cooke claimed that it only had three days to respond to the report, which it said is flawed.
Cooke Aquaculture Shut Out of the Investigation?
“Cooke Aquaculture was shut out of this investigation by the state agencies,” Joel Richardson, a Cooke vice president, said in the statement. “As a result, investigators with limited experience in aquaculture or net-pen operations have produced an inaccurate and misleading document that appears to be intended to fuel the push by aquaculture opponents to put Cooke out of business in Washington state.”
Specifically, it claimed that the state improperly accused the company of overestimating the number of recovered salmon.
“In fact, Cooke employees counted each fish as it was recovered under the state’s supervision. The report’s estimate, meanwhile, was based on a flawed estimate of the average weight of the recovered fish,” the release stated.
Cooke Aquaculture Instructed not to Dispute Conclusions
Additionally, Cooke said that it wasn’t given enough time to give its feedback on a 266-page draft and “was instructed not to dispute the report’s analysis or conclusions”.
“We provided substantive comment back to the agencies under an unfairly brief timeline to address the report’s major factual errors and omissions about what occurred at our facility late August,” Richardson said. “We cooperated fully with the investigation and stood ready to provide expertise, background and context to help the investigators in their work. Unfortunately, we don’t believe the public or lawmakers are getting a complete and accurate picture from this report.”
Cooke also complained that the state was inaccurate in its analysis of the biofouling issue.
“We acknowledge that the site fell behind in net hygiene prior to the mooring failures in July. However, Cooke provided the investigators extensive documentation of the washing performed at Site 2 after the July incident,” Richardson said. “Although the report is correct that mussels were present in the bottom of the nets, the investigative panel lacked the expertise to make that judgment about the relationship between fouling and drag, and did not rely upon alternate expertise when forming the conclusions reflected in the report.”
Washington state governor Jay Inslee has put a hold on any new salmon farming permits pending the investigation and Cooke has faced widespread condemnation.
Inslee said Cooke must do everything it can to stop any additional escapes and to recover as many fish as possible, including adequate compensation for those working to remove Atlantic salmon from the waters.
NGO the Wild Fish Conservancy, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit against Cooke, alleging “blatant negligent violations of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits under which Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon net pens currently operate”.
Original Article by Undercurrent News located HERE
Jan. 30, 2018 19:43 GMT
Reposted by the Quinault Division of Natural Resources