Hood Canal group seeks Atlantic salmon moratorium

Hood Canal Coordinating Council has voted to support Jefferson County — one of its three member counties — in calling for a moratorium on the deployment of new net pens for raising Atlantic salmon.

Manchester Research Station in Kitsap County conducts studies involving fish diseases. / NOAA photo

A resolution presented to the council yesterday asks Gov. Chris Gregoire to impose and maintain the moratorium “until there is a plan in place to ensure that there is no risk to native salmon runs.”

I’m not sure how much direct authority the governor has over siting net pens, but she appoints the director of the Department of Ecology — one of the agencies that permits aquaculture projects.

Kitsap County Commissioner Josh Brown, chairman of the coordinating council, said he supported the resolution as a way to encourage the governor to increase research into the environmental impacts of salmon farming. Brown said he does not intend for his support to influence Kitsap County’s shoreline planning process.

The latest draft of the Kitsap County Shoreline Master Program includes language that would allow net pens and other aquaculture (PDG 60 kb) with limitations:

  • “Aquaculture activities should be located, designed and operated in a manner that supports long term beneficial use of the shoreline and protects and maintains shoreline ecological functions and processes and should not be permitted where it would result in a net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processes…
  • “Aquaculture facilities should be designed and located with the capacity to prevent: a) the spread of aquatic pathogens, b) the establishment new non native species in the natural environment, and c) significant impact to the aesthetic qualities of the shoreline.”

In contrast, Jefferson County’s proposed Shoreline Master Program (PDF 2.7 mb) has proposed banning all commercial net pen operations as well as “finfish aquaculture that releases herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, non-indigenous species, parasites, genetically modified organisms, or feed into surrounding waters.”

The proposed ban has not been accepted by the Washington Department of Ecology, which must sign off on the document before it goes into effect. The standoff has kept Jefferson’s otherwise-approved shorelines plan in limbo for the past year.

In its findings and conclusions (PDF 488 kb), Ecology wrote:

“Ecology considered whether there was enough discussion and evidence of a science basis in the record to support a ban. We concluded there was not a conclusive science basis on the record to support such a ban.”

Ecology proposed changing the outright ban to a requirement that “all significant impacts have been mitigated” before approval of any aquaculture project.

The resolution approved yesterday was brought to the Hood Canal Coordinating Council by Jefferson County Commissioner Phil Johnson, who cited concerns about the highly contagious virus that causes Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) in wild fish. The ISA virus, he said, has been found in juvenile sockeye in British Columbia, where there are more than 100 salmon farms.

“The virus discovered tested positive to the European strain of ISA and therefore almost certain to have originated from Atlantic salmon farms,” according to Johnson’s resolution, which adds, “No country has gotten rid of the ISA virus once the virus arrives.”

A letter supporting the resolution was approved unanimously by the coordinating council, which includes the county commissioners from Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties along with tribal chairmen from the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish tribes.

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental and native groups last week petitioned an international tribunal to investigate Canada’s salmon-farming industry and its effects on wild salmon.

Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity stated in a news release:

“Industrial salmon feedlots function as disease-breeding factories, allowing parasites and diseases to reproduce at unnaturally high rates. Marine feedlot waste flows directly, untreated, into contact with wild salmon. Putting feedlots hosting a toxic soup of bacteria, parasites, viruses and sea lice on wild fish migration routes is the height of biological insanity.”

Biologist Alexandra Morton of the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society added:

“The Canadian inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye, the largest salmon-producing river in the world, suggests the primarily Norwegian-owned British Columbia salmon-farming industry exerts trade pressures that exceed Canada’s political will to protect wild salmon

“Releasing viruses into native ecosystems is an irrevocable threat to biodiversity, yet Canada seems to have no mechanism to prevent salmon-farm diseases from afflicting wild salmon throughout the entire North Pacific.”

The 53-page petition (PDF 1.8 mb) was submitted to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, a group working under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The petition describes sea lice and four specific bacterial and viral diseases alleged to be related to salmon pens. It also describes problems related to toxic chemicals and concentrated waste.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans maintains that it is conducting research and acting on problems as they are identified. The agency proclaims on its website:

“Environmental effects of aquaculture operations can be controlled to meet rigorous domestic and international environmental standards.”

So-called “State-of-Knowledge” review papers summarize current thinking on aquaculture, according to the agency.

One thought on “Hood Canal group seeks Atlantic salmon moratorium

  1. Chris:

    There is no question that the use of net pens for commercial salmon rearing in the Salish Sea needs to have a more rigerous oversight by both the US and Canada. I am aware that there is still a controversy amoung scientists about the tests that were done that resulted in a positive declaration concerning ISA. That issue needs to be clarified by indipendent research facilities both in Canada and the US.

    I think there is more serious sleeping giant that the public in the Puget Sound area is not aware of that creates a far greater threat to the health of the shorelines, the salmon populations and the Orca populations. This threat is the increasing expansion of intensive shellfish culture for geoduck production that is destroying the nearshore habitat. These commercial operations have already impacted over 600 acres of shoreline and the applications for additional sites could conceivably exceed 1,000 acres if the current permitting process continues without the research to properly assess the impact of this practice on forage fish.

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