Meetings were expected to begin last week between the state Department of Natural Resources and Cooke Aquaculture Pacific on plans to shut down the company’s Atlantic salmon fish farm off Ediz Hook after DNR terminated Cooke’s lease.
“I don’t see that there is any opportunity to fix this,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said Sunday, Dec. 17, in an interview.
DNR notified the company Friday, Dec. 15, that its aquatic lands lease to operate in Port Angeles Harbor, good until 2025, was cancelled as of Friday, according to the agency’s notice of default and termination of lease.
The agency determined Cooke was operating the fish farm 500 feet outside its authorized area, was maintaining an unsafe anchoring system and was failing to prevent nonbiodegradable, petroleum-based Styrofoam it uses in flotation material from leaching into the water.
Franz announced the lease termination Dec. 17. Cooke’s Ediz Hook office was open that same day. A worker there referred questions about the lease termination to company spokesman Joel Richardson, who said in an email Dec. 17 that he will comment “after we have assessed the notice.”
He told the Seattle Times in an email that the notice was unexpected.
“This came as a surprise given the extensive improvements we have been undertaking to the site to ensure compliance, and our efforts to work with DNR to address self-identified issues in a cooperative manner,” Richardson said.
The violations were uncovered during a statewide inspection of net pens that was initiated by DNR after the collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island net pen northeast of Port Angeles collapsed, releasing 160,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into waters west of Anacortes.
The Port Angeles fish farm comprises 14 connected, floating pens that can hold up to 700,000 salmon.
DNR spokesman Carlo Davis said on Dec. 17 they were located 500 feet from their designated location.
Icicle Seafoods, the fish farm’s former owner, had agreed in October 2015 to ensure that its net pens were within the allowed site by Oct. 1, 2016.
Cooke acquired the fish farm when the New Brunswick, Canada-based company purchased Icicle Seafoods Inc. of Seattle, in May 2016.
Franz said Cooke was obligated to abide by DNR’s October 2015 agreement with Icicle.
“They had plenty of time to this pursuant to the lease they inherited,” she said.
“They had until October 2016, by then, to ensure all their facilities were within the boundaries of the leasehold.
“It was clear they were not within boundaries.”
According to the termination notice, anchors for the primary and secondary net pen arrays were located outside the lease area.
Anchors are considered existing improvements at the site.
The fish farm has been operating since 1984 under various owners.
“We had concerns it could potentially be outside” the lease area, Franz said.
“That’s why we negotiated the lease, to make sure that by October 2016, they had the facility in the footprint of the lease area.”
Cooke is violating the agreement by not keeping three of the net-pen’s anchors “in good order and repair, in a clean, attractive and safe condition” as required by the lease, according to the termination notice.
“In violation of this provision, as of December 9, 2017, two net-pen anchor chains were disconnected from their anchors, and a third anchor chain had an open link that is vulnerable to complete failure,” the notice said.
Franz said she is concerned “that the facility could break and endanger public health and safety as well as the health of the Puget Sound.”
Franz said the fish farm floats in a high boat traffic area that includes Black Ball Ferry Line’s MV Coho ferry.
There also will be increased activity emanating from a Navy submarine escort-vessel pier at the nearby Ediz Hook Coast Guard station.
The pier is scheduled to be completed in July 2018.
“The Navy, in its divine wisdom, decided it was going to build a pier pretty much on top of where we farm,” Cooke General Manager Innes Weir said April 5 in a presentation to the Port Angeles Business Association.
Cooke had planned to replace the Ediz Hook farm by building a new, larger $9 million facility east of Port Angeles near Morse Creek between Sequim and Port Angeles, to make way for construction of the 425-foot pier and trestle, where up to seven escort vessels will berth.
The fish farm would hold up to 900,000 salmon, 29 percent more than the 700,000 salmon at Cooke’s Ediz Hook facility.
Cooke has applied for a permit for the new facility under the state Shoreline Master Program that would be issued by Clallam County.
A Sept. 7 county hearing examiner hearing was indefinitely postponed after Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug. 19 imposed a moratorium on new fish farm permits following the failure of Cooke’s Cypress Island net pen.
The collapse of the pen and the termination of Cooke’s Ediz Hook lease are unrelated, DNR said in its press release on the cancellation.
State agencies continue to investigate the Cypress Island incident, according to the press release.
The investigation and a final report are expected to be completed by mid-January.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.