The US environmental nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy has submitted a lease proposal to Washington state officials, aiming to take over Cooke's former salmon farming permits that are set to expire by 2022.
The nonprofit seeks to hold Cooke's four remaining salmon farm permits in the state in a trust for the "sole purposes of restoring these industrialized aquatic lands to their natural state for the restoration and conservation of threatened and endangered species, water quality, and the overall health and function of Puget Sound's ecosystem."
The Washington Department of Ecology since April has been reviewing Cooke's applications to modify its remaining permits for four netpens in the state to be converted into sites to farm rainbow trout.
The permits are for Cooke's Clam Bay, Fort Ward, Orchard Rocks and Hope Island netpens.
In 2018 Washington state passed a law to phase out all non-native finfish farming, such as Atlantic salmon farming. Cooke will not be allowed to operate in the state if it is not approved to switch to farming trout, which is native to the state.
Last Luly Cooke began early discussions with Washington state officials to try to save its remaining permits and has since received criticism from several environmental groups, who point to the company's history in the state. In 2017 Cooke's catastrophic netpen collapse in Washington state allowed more than 250,000 non-native fish to escape into Puget Sound.
Environmental groups in February filed a lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, claiming Cooke Aquaculture's proposed steelhead trout farming operation could have catastrophic impacts on the health of the Puget Sound waters the fish would be raised in.
"The continued use of public waters for commercial net pen aquaculture directly undermines the will of the public who have fought tirelessly to protect Puget Sound from this industry and invested significantly in the recovery of wild salmon, steelhead, orcas, and the health of Puget Sound,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy. “The expiration of these leases comes less than once in a decade and offers the public a rare opportunity to work together to take back our sound and restore these waters after thirty years of rampant pollution and industrial use.”