Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Fake Fish


November 1, 2017

The collapse of a Cooke Aquaculture net pen in Puget Sound in late August released hundreds of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea at the peak of wild salmon migration. To add insult to injury, the company intends to transfer an additional million Atlantic smolt from their hatchery to net pens, against the express wishes of treaty tribes and other voices in the fisheries, conservation and natural resources communities.

A press release from Jones Family Farms and Lummi Island Wild, two entities involved in the cleanup of the toxic fish, calls attention to disturbing news that Cooke Aquaculture is now unwilling to make good on their legal, financial and moral duty to pay for the cost of cleaning up their mess.

Jones Family Farms, located on Lopez Island, Washington, is a diverse family-run business specializing in quality natural meats and seafoods. Lummi Island Wild is a group of reef net fishermen who fish off Lummi Island and market their wild salmon direct to the consumer.

According to the release, Cooke’s net pen permits obligate them to remove as many spilled fish as possible and to fairly compensate those who participated in the cleanup effort.

Immediately following the spill, tribal and state-licensed fishers took to the water in order to remove as many of these fish as possible. Over the course of two weeks, commercial fishers removed more than one third of the fish that are estimated to have escaped. Lummi Island Wild (LIW) and Jones Family Farms (JFF) were among those who dropped their regular fisheries activities to assist in the cleanup.

After pulling fish from the water, boatloads went to Bellingham to be frozen, awaiting instruction from the Cooke Company as to how they would like their fish to be handled. Tribal-caught fish were generally delivered into the custody of the respective tribes, while fish caught by Washington State-licensed fishers were frozen and held by Lummi Island Wild.

Treaty tribes have been negotiating directly with Cooke, while the Canadian company invited individual State-licensed fishers to deal directly with their Seattle attorney. Some tribes quickly came to a settlement. The Lummi Nation, whose fishers caught the vast majority of fish, was initially forced to borrow money to cover expenses for their fishers and the cost of freezing and holding the fish. The tribe has apparently come to an agreement with Cooke, and as this issue went to press, Cooke had dismissed its law firm and retained a private attorney, who wasn’t returning calls.

Lummi Island Wild and Jones Family Farms have had repeated discussions with Cooke regarding a fair settlement for the non-treaty fish. Cooke sent a representative to Bellingham to inspect the frozen Atlantics and met with LIW management. Cooke’s one concrete offer to LIW was $1/lb. for recovered fish, less than the direct expenses of hauling and freezing the fish, and less than a third of the compensation Cooke ultimately offered the tribes.

Last week, Cooke informed both LIW and JFF that the Canadian company considers the recovery fishery to be complete and closed, and that Cooke is no longer interested in entertaining claims for escaped Atlantics. Cooke suggested LIW and JFF take up any remaining issues with headquarters in Nova Scotia. To date, the company has not returned calls or emails.

The press release notes that Lummi Island Wild and Jones Family Farms, as well as other various state-licensed fishers, are out tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and are stuck with tens of thousands of pounds of worthless fish.

The Canadian company seems ambivalent about people who cleaned up their mess, and uninterested in working with Washington fisheries stakeholders or the general community.

We’re not surprised that a large company from Eastern Canada has little concern for the natural resources of the Pacific Northwest, even though their product is sold at local restaurants and grocery stores, including Costco, Fred Meyer and Ralph’s.

The best way to address this is through Cooke’s wallet. Let your neighbors know about the Cooke fiasco. Visit your local grocer and restaurants. Show them the story beginning on page 10 of this issue. Tell them that real fish don’t eat pellets.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email:


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