The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) is labelling a lawsuit filed against Cooke Aquaculture's planned steelhead trout farming operation in Washington state as "damaging" to the two companies involved in the joint venture as well the region's population.

The producers group said the "frivolous" lawsuit was filed by activist organizations "out of touch with science.”

NWAA fired back after environmental groups on Tuesday 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.

Friends of the Earth, Wild Fish Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety claim the department failed to account for environmental risks to federally protected species when it issued permits to Cooke to farm steelhead in netpens in January.

"We regard this lawsuit as a desperate, last-ditch effort to delay a project that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved after a year of intensive scientific review and public input," NWAA Executive Director Jeanne McKnight said.

If authorized, the permit would allow the company to produce steelhead in net pens for five years. However, the permit may extend to three other Cooke-owned netpens in the future.

Under the plan, Cooke will transition operations in Fort Ward, Orchard Rocks, Clam Bay and Hope Island from Atlantic salmon to trout.

The company currently has 800,000 Atlantic salmon stocked in its remaining pens, down from 3.5 million fish a few years ago.

In October, Cooke found an ally in Washington state to help it with its trout and black cod farming projects in the state with the establishment of a joint venture with Washington state's Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

In the court filing Tuesday, the NGOs highlighted the escape of around 250,000 Atlantic salmon from Cooke’s Cypress Island facility in 2017, an incident that led the state to swiftly pass a law banning net pen farming of non-native finfish by 2022.

It's not the first time Wild Fish Conservancy and its partners have gone after Cooke's salmonid farming projects.

In November, Cooke agreed to settle a Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by the group just days before having to defend themselves in court.