Washington Department of Ecology revises Puget Sound net pen permits for steelhead

After public review and feedback, the Washington Department of Ecology has revised four water quality permits to allow sterile, all-female steelhead to be raised in marine net pens, instead of Atlantic salmon.

The permit revisions are part of the multi-agency permitting process Cooke Aquaculture went through to change the type of fish it raises in four Puget Sound net pens from non-native Atlantic salmon to native steelhead, also known as rainbow trout. The facilities are located near Bainbridge Island and La Conner.

After receiving approval from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to switch species, the company needed the ecology department’s approval for updated water quality permits.

In response to the company’s application, the ecology department drafted revised permits and took public feedback from September 9 through October 26, 2020, receiving 147 submissions.

While the ecology department determined that switching species would not change potential impacts on water quality, the agency strengthened regulations in the permits to ensure water quality is protected. Additional requirements include:

  • Clarification that any fish reared in Cooke’s net pens are prohibited from release
  • Added requirements and details on how to notify state agencies of events that could potentially lead to fish escape
  • Increased monitoring and reporting of potential fish escape during stocking and harvesting
  • Added reporting for fish feed consumption
  • Added details on how nets must be maintained
  • Added a requirement to study new technologies and propose alternatives that reduce or prevent discharge of uneaten feed or metabolic waste

All net pens operated by Cooke are currently empty, with Atlantic salmon harvest completed in October 2020.

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