Huzzah -- let's celebrate a big win for ignorance and raw emotion. The Washington State salmon farming industry, for all intents and purposes, was just killed off with the signature of Gov. Jay Inlsee, following a decision by lawmakers to ban the sector after an escape last fall at Cooke Aquaculture's Cypress Island farm.
If there were real evidence of impacts on the health of Washington State's wild salmon runs from the escape, maybe I'd be writing a different column. But even with the evidence in hand, making farmed salmon a bogeyman ignores and excuses the behaviors that can impact wild salmon, namely an absence of spawning habitat from rampant urban growth, dams and, yes, irresponsible aquaculture: Washington has been supplementing its wild stocks with hatchery-farmed fish for decades, and that's led to a dramatic decline in genetic diversity. Ban away, Washington -- those spawning streams aren't coming back any more than Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft are going away.
But salmon farming isn't going away anytime soon either, and it's going to continue to be farmed by northern neighbors in BC, and it's going to continue to spill into Washington stores and restaurants.
Open net pen salmon farming isn't for everyone, and frankly, its place in Washington State has always felt a bit tenuous given the place wild salmon holds in Pacific Northwest traditional culture.
I doubt the farmed salmon industry will return anytime in the near -- or dare I say distant -- future. And that's too bad. Washington State's unemployment rate stands at around 4.5 percent, and two of the counties where Cooke has farms -- Skagit and Clallam -- have significantly higher rates, with 6.3 percent unemployment in Skagit and 8.1 percent in Clallam.
As Washington State's working coastal communities die out (especially those with ties to the seafood sector), aquaculture holds a lot of promise. And no, NGOs, oysters and mussels alone aren't going to do the trick.
The escape happened. And yes, Cooke fumbled its response. But instead of taking the lead on finding a more sustainable way to operate, politicians have ended up killing the hopes for one major US state to take part in what will likely be the biggest agricultural revolution in modern history.
A little advice for Gov. Inslee and the Washington State legislature: before you shut down your next promising business sector, you might want to learn about it, and the potential it has to bring meaningful employment to your state.