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WFC Files Citizen Suit Against Cooke Aquaculture Under CWA

Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC) announces today its filing of a citizen suit against Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, LLC, under section 505 of the Clean Water Act, with the goal of holding the company responsible for the negligent release of over 100,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into public waters.

As has been widely reported, Cooke Aquaculture presided over the near-complete structural failure of a net pen facility located in Deepwater Bay off of Cypress Island over the weekend of August 19th and 20th, the failure of which has resulted in the discharge of farmed Atlantic salmon, dead fish carcasses, and massive amounts of debris among other pollutants. The escape event off of Cypress Island represents a dire threat to already imperiled wild fish populations, beloved marine mammal species, and the fragile Puget Sound ecosystem at-large

These discharges represent blatantly negligent violations of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits under which Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon net pens currently operate.

While many efforts have been taken by local tribal, commercial, and recreational fishermen to remove the escaped Atlantic salmon from public waters, many thousands eluded capture and are currently spreading throughout the farthest reaches of the Salish Sea and beyond. According to Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Atlantic salmon have been found as far south as southern Puget Sound and as far north as northern Vancouver Island.

“This escape has forced the public to accept a huge gamble that depressed populations of wild, native salmon andsteelhead will not be harmed by this non-native invader,” said Dr. Nick Gayeski, fisheries scientist at the Conservancy. “Escaped non-native fish pose predation and disease threats to juvenile salmon and steelhead rearing in nearshore habitats in Puget Sound. They also pose threats to adult wild salmon and steelhead by competing for spawning habitat and potentially by establishing self-sustaining populations in Puget Sound rivers as they have been documented to have done on Vancouver Island.”

“The August release in Deepwater Bay is not an isolated incident. Rather, the escape represents yet another act of negligence in a long line of transgressions on the part of the Atlantic salmon net pen industry in Puget Sound, including three major escape events in the 1990’s and a deadly disease outbreak in 2012,” Kurt Beardslee, WFC Executive Director, said in a statement. “In the hopes of preventing future harm to Puget Sound and the critical marine habitats on which Washingtonians and wildlife rely, we’re taking legal action today to put Cooke Aquaculture’s actions leading up to and during the spill under legal and public scrutiny for the benefit of our Sound and our salmon.”

In addition to legal measures, WFC is working to more precisely quantify the potential impacts of the August release by sending escaped Atlantic salmon samples obtained by the Lummi Nation to independent labs to test for a variety of toxins and viral diseases. Testing the escaped fish for a comprehensive list of toxins and viral diseases will be crucial in determining the escape event’s true impact on the well-being of wild fish and marine mammal populations.

Earlier this year, Wild Fish Conservancy launched the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign to oppose the expansion of Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound. More information and opportunities for public involvement related to the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign, including our letter of petition to Governor Inslee, can be found at oursound-oursalmon.org.

Wild Fish Conservancy is represented in this matter by Kampmeier & Knutsen, PLLC, of Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington and by Earthrise Law Center at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.

To read the full press release, click here.

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