A Washington state judge will allow a trade group representing the Pacific Northwest aquaculture industry to join a lawsuit filed by a Native American tribe asserting its sovereign right to farm finfish in its waters.

Washington Superior Court Judge Indu Thomas on Friday granted the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) the ability to serve as an intervener in the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe's lawsuit against the Washington state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to grant an exception for for all tribal commercial netpen aquaculture ventures.

The tribe filed the suit after Franz announced an executive order to ban netpen finfish farming in Washington state-owned waters.

The Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe currently has a pending state application to build a new steelhead farm through a joint venture with Canadian seafood giant Cooke called Salish Fish in Port Angeles, Washington.

NWAA Executive Director Jeanne McKnight said members of the 40-year-old aquaculture advocacy group are “pleased that the Court has agreed [NWAA] members have an interest relating to the subject of this action."

McKnight said the DNR's objection to the NWAA's desire to intervene in the lawsuit was unusual.

“We question why the state’s landlord, DNR, felt it necessary to oppose a business association in supporting its members’ interests in such an important matter,” McKnight said, noting that Franz' order banning finfish aquaculture in Washington waters "caused great harm" to companies operating in the industry and their employees.

The lawsuit came in the wake of Franz canceled leases for netpen salmon farms operated by Cooke in Washington state waters. The announcement was a prelude to a full ban, announced days later.

Earlier this year, the DNR denied its decision to ban finfish aquaculture in state waters disrespected the sovereignty of The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, setting up a potentially explosive battle over Native American sovereignty.

Washington state officials are pushing for land-based salmon farming as an alternative for the aquaculture industry, and are moving ahead with a cooperative effort to identify a location for Canadian land-based salmon farming group Sustainable Blue.