Department of Natural Resources Terminates Atlantic Salmon Net Pen Lease
December 17, 2017
Today, Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, announced the termination of Cooke Aquaculture Pacific’s Port Angeles net pen lease. Cooke Aquaculture Pacific (Cooke) raises Atlantic salmon at this site.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) discovered this month that Cooke’s net pens in Port Angeles are operating in an unauthorized area. In addition, Cooke has failed to maintain the facility in a safe condition and failed to replace unencapsulated flotation material in order to prevent Styrofoam from disintegrating into the water.
These are clear violations of the lease and the basis for termination.
“My duty to the people of Washington is to protect our state lands and waters, while also generating revenue for schools, essential services, and restoration of natural areas like Puget Sound,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands. “After the collapse of Cooke’s Cypress Island net pen in August, which released 160,000 non-native salmon into our waters, I directed my staff to inspect every net pen site in the state to ensure that Cooke was meeting its contractual obligations and that our waters are safe.
“It is now clear that Cooke has been violating the lease terms for its Port Angeles net pens. In light of this violation, and in fulfillment of my commitment to protect our lands and waters, I am terminating the lease.”
DNR entered into a lease with Icicle Acquisition Subsidiary (Icicle) for the Port Angeles site in October 2015. At that time, DNR questioned whether the net pens were operating outside of the leasehold. Per the terms of the lease, Icicle agreed to ensure that its net pens were fully within the allowed location by October 1, 2016. Cooke assumed this lease when it purchased Icicle in May 2016.
After the August 19 net pen collapse at Cooke’s Cypress Island site, Commissioner Franz directed DNR to examine each net pen facility to ensure that they are safe and in compliance with lease terms.
An inspection this month revealed serious safety concerns at the Port Angeles site:
- Cooke’s net pens are still outside of the leasehold,
- Two of the net pens’ anchor chains are not connected, and a third has an open link which is vulnerable to complete failure, and
- Cooke has failed to replace unencapsulated flotation material in order to prevent Styrofoam from leaching into the environment.
Given Cooke’s failure to comply with the terms of the lease, DNR has clear authority to terminate the agreement. DNR will work with Cooke to wind up its operations at the site.
A copy of the termination and notice of default letter DNR sent to Cooke is available here.
Though unrelated to the termination of Cooke’s lease at Port Angeles, State agencies are currently investigating the circumstances of the failure of an Atlantic salmon net pen at Cypress Island in August of this year. This joint effort by the Department of Ecology, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and DNR involves reviewing information collected during and after the incident, interviewing Cooke Aquaculture Pacific staff, and conducting an engineering review of the failure. This investigation and final report is expected to be completed in mid-January of 2018. Upon receipt of that report, Commissioner Franz will evaluate the findings and assess DNR’s full range of options under its lease with Cooke for the Cypress Island net pens.