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Washington’s Fish Farms Are Governed By Decades-Old Guidelines

The guidelines have been on the books since 1986. Critics of fish farming in Puget Sound say last month's farmed salmon escape underscores the need for better standards and enforcement.

September 6, 2017

Washington state’s guidelines for fish farms include things like where they should be located and how many fish can be farmed in how much water. These guidelines are more than three decades old: they date back to 1986.

“We know that the old recommendations are out of date,” says Department of Ecology spokesperson Curt Hart.

The department has been working on updating them since last fall and planned to finish by 2019. But, after 160,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into Puget Sound this August, the Ecology work group might be going back to the drawing board.

The Wild Fish Conservancy, which opposes fish farms in Puget Sound, says the current guidelines aren’t even being followed: they say some salmon net pens are located in marine protected areas.

Spokespeople for the Department of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife could not immediately confirm that.

After August’s fish escape, the Ecology work group has started asking questions like, “Do we keep going down the same path that we were going?” Hart says. “What the new path forward is we don’t know.”

For now, Hart says, the work group’s busy observing Cooke Aquaculture’s emergency response.


A damaged net pen at Cooke Aquaculture's facility on Cypress Island is shown on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.

Megan Farmer