The world's largest aquaculture industry association on Tuesday came to the defense of Canadian seafood giant Cooke Aquaculture and its plans to continue farming salmonids in Washington state.
Following the release of a video campaign on behalf of Patagonia and the environmental NGO Wild Fish Conservancy to "evict" Cooke Aquaculture from Washington state, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) gave a full-throated defense of the company's plans to switch from Atlantic salmon to steelhead trout farming in Puget Sound.
In a letter submitted to Washington state’s Department of Ecology as part of a public comment period for Cooke's application to farm rainbow trout at its former Atlantic salmon netpen sites, GAA commended the New Brunswick-based company for its history of responsible aquaculture.
"Cooke Aquaculture is facing attacks from Washington state-based NGO Wild Fish Conservancy through its partnership with outdoor apparel company Patagonia and its subsidiary Patagonia Provisions," GAA said.
The organization also touted Cooke's history with the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), where it added the company is "well positioned to ensure that all-female, sterile steelhead trout (also called rainbow trout) is raised in a responsible manner with minimal impact to the surrounding environment."
"Cooke Aquaculture was an early adopter of the BAP salmon farm standards when they were released in June 2011," GAA said.
"By March 2015, Cooke Aquaculture had achieved four-star BAP status, one of only three salmon-farming companies in the world to do so at the time."
Cooke's efforts to operate in Washington state have faced headwinds. The farms, which were taken over by Cooke as part of its acquisition of Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods in 2016, have long faced opposition, but the 2017 collapse of Cooke's netpen near Cypress Island, which released tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon into the surrounding waters, sparked an outcry from residents, activists and local Native groups.
Cooke's application to farm steelhead trout is still being reviewed for final approval by Washington state officials.
For the past two months, the Washington Department of Ecology has allowed public comment on Cooke's draft permits to switch from farming Atlantic salmon to rainbow trout for four existing netpens in the state. The closing date for those comments was Monday.
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.
In July, the US environmental nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy submitted a lease proposal to Washington state officials aiming to take over Cooke's former salmon farming permits, which 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."