When a Cooke Aquaculture net pen holding more than 300,000 invasive Atlantic Salmon broke off the shore of Cypress Island this past August, I was surprised and disappointed.
First came the surprise. For most of my life, I’ve lived in Oregon, where there are no net pen operations. I didn’t know net pens growing an invasive species amidst a struggling native species were even a thing. It didn’t make sense to me, and the fact that one failed was beyond my comprehension. Since then, I have learned a lot about it, including that the states of California and Alaska have banned this kind of operation.
Then came disappointment. Why were we allowing these kinds of net pens? It’s illogical and dangerous – as was made evident by the failure on Aug. 20. More than 240,000 of these invasive salmon escaped into the surrounding waters, potentially introducing diseases and competition for food to the native salmon.
When the keystone species of the Salish Sea, the Southern resident killer whales, depends so heavily on the prosperity of native salmon, any activity that can cause potential harm to their population should be limited. The introduction of thousands of foreign fish to the ecosystem might not impact the native species, but that is not a guarantee. Is that a gamble we’re willing to take when the resident orcas are facing extinction?
The Washington Department of Ecology, along with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources released a 120-page investigation report on Jan. 30 that concluded Cooke Aquaculture was negligent in maintaining the aging net pen. The three agencies fined Cooke $332,000.
When Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, said he was going to introduce legislation to end net pens on Jan. 4, I was ecstatic. Since moving to Orcas, I have become invested in the protection of the Salish Sea. The ban on net pen operations that was passed by the state Senate 35-12 last week is a great step toward the preservation of this delicate ecosystem. We hope the House of Representatives follows suit in approving a ban on this out-of-date practice.