When as many as 263,000 fish escaped into the Salish Sea from Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon farm at Cypress Island last August, concerns about the safety of net-pen farming became front page news. Our native Pacific salmon populations are already threatened by development, climate change, ocean acidification and decreased food resources. Net pens have a poor environmental safety record that includes thousands of escaped Atlantic salmon, a major viral outbreak, and decades of pollution. On top of existing impacts, the massive spill created an unprecedented threat to our waterways, native Pacific salmon, and the multiple species that depend on them.
At our state-wide chapter meeting in Sequim last October, leaders at the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society proposed a Washington chapter network resolution to support legislation that would phase out Atlantic salmon net-pen farming in Washington state.
Spurred to action, Audubon Washington worked with a broad coalition of organizations focused on healthy waters and ecosystems to pass HB 2957 which phases out non-native fish farming in Washington state by 2022 and bans new invasive Atlantic salmon net pen operations. Along the west coast, Washington is the only state that allows the cultivation of non-native salmon in our waters. Oregon and California previously enacted preventative legislation to protect our shared native salmon populations. Now, thanks to a concerted network wide effort including extensive lobbying, expert testimony from chapter and state Audubon leaders, and overwhelming action and support from our members, Washington has done the same.
HB 2957 protects Washington waters from these unnecessary pollutants. The bill also provides some funding for our agencies to increase assessments of structural integrity at existing facilities and update the state guidance on net pen aquaculture.
As a coalition, the outpouring of support and engagement from both members of the campaign and from people all over Washington state was groundbreaking. In fact, Audubon members responded to requests for action on this bill at the highest rate ever. Over 70% of people took action when asked to contact their legislator about this issue! Members of both the House and Senate changed their stance on the issue over the course of the session, having considered the concerns of their constituents.
As Audubon Washington Executive Director Gail Gatton stated after passage of the legislation, “A healthy Puget Sound is essential to birds and other wildlife, as well as our economy. With the passage of HB 2957 and the phasing out of Atlantic salmon net pen farming, we will be able to better protect our marine waters for birds, fish and other wildlife for years to come. We commend the lawmakers and concerned citizens who supported passage of this legislation.”
This is a huge win for Washington’s birds and marine ecosystem, decreasing pollution and disease risks, and enabling agencies to focus on the conservation of our native salmon species. This bipartisan legislation is a win for birds, our native fish, and shoreline communities.