Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Chris Philips
Managing Editor 

Hazardous Spill Response


January 1, 2018

While the State of Washington claims there was no measurable or lasting damage from a recent hazardous material spill (see Fish Farm Faces Lawsuit, page 26 of this issue), evidence to the contrary is swimming around in Puget Sound.

Atlantic salmon that escaped from a net pen in Washington waters three months ago are being caught about 40 miles up the Skagit River, according to the Bellingham Herald. The paper says a crew gathering chum to stock an Upper Skagit tribal hatchery caught dozens of the farm-raised fish about 40 miles from the mouth of the Skagit River.

On September 7th, several weeks after the collapse of the net pens, the State Department of Natural Resources issued a health report claiming no common bacterial, viral, or parasitic pathogens were detected in the fish, and claimed “It does not appear that this species (Atlantics) fares well long term in Puget Sound.”

Tell that to the Upper Skagit tribe.

At press time Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz, had announced the termination of Cooke Aquaculture’s Port Angeles net pen lease, because of several operational violations, including:

• Operating in an unauthorized area.

• Failing to maintain the facility in a safe condition.

• Failing to replace flotation material in order to prevent Styrofoam from disintegrating into the water.

Meanwhile, Cooke continues to raise Atlantics in state waters, including a pen in Rich Passage, where inspectors found a hole in netting and severe corrosion on several components of the facility’s above-water infrastructure.

Let’s go back to August 19th, and make believe that, instead of fish, a foreign company – we’ll call it Cooke Oil Transport – had spilled 1,000 gallons of crude oil in the Cypress Island Natural Resources Conservation Area.

First of all, Cooke Oil would not have been allowed in US waters without a spill response operator on retainer to react in the event of a spill. The idea of hundreds of thousands of invasive fish swimming in state waters with no plan to separate them from the fragile ecology of Puget Sound should be unthinkable.

The state would require Cooke Oil to be prepared to respond if they spilled oil, and the state would require Cooke to have oil spill contingency plans, and to hold oil spill drills to practice using their plans.

The Department of Ecology would respond to a spill as the State-On-Scene Coordinator, with teams based in Bellingham, Bellevue, Olympia, Vancouver, Union Gap, and Spokane.

The response would include control and containment of the source of pollution, clean up, investigation, damage assessment, resource restoration, and, finally, a heavy fine.

Unlike the strict oversight of petroleum products, the state has been remarkably cavalier with the protection of our natural resources from aquatic invasion. It’s time to hold the floating net pens in the state to the same standards as those imposed on other hazardous materials.

We suggest Commissioner Franz start work on a plan for aquaculture modeled on the oil spill plans that have been in place for more than 20 years.

In the case of the Cooke net pen collapse, the time has passed for control and containment, clean up, investigation, damage assessment and resource restoration. All that’s left to do is assess a hefty fine to Cooke Aquaculture.

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


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