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Cooke Aquaculture Sued Over Net Pen Collapse

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo
In this Oct. 11, 2008 file photo, an Atlantic salmon leaps in a Cooke Aquaculture farm pen near Eastport, Maine.

A local wild-salmon advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against Cooke Aquaculture in U.S. District Court in Seattle. The Wild Fish Conservancy says the Canadian company must be held responsible for the collapse of its net pen in Deepwater Bay off Cyprus Island this summer.

The collapse led to the release of Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea. Since the incident in August, the non-native species has been found as far south as south Puget Sound and as far north as Vancouver Island.

The group is filing suit under the Clean Water Act, saying the more than 100,000 farmed fish that escaped, as well as debris from the net pen collapse, polluted the water and harmed the public good. 

“These fish can compete with our native fish, they can compete for food, they can compete for spawning, they can spread viruses and parasites or other toxins. It is definitely in the category of a pollutant,” said Wild Fish Conservancy Executive Director Kurt Beardslee.

The suit alleges that the company’s negligence led to the collapse, which would increase any fines for this incident.

Beardslee says another key goal of the suit is to show the general perils of allowing this kind of aquaculture in public waters because of the use of pharmaceuticals and potential for the spread of disease.

“There are so many problems that these pens create in our public waters that we need to re-look at if this is really in the best interest of the public, having them in our water,” he said

Earlier this year, Save Our Wild Salmon launched a campaign called ‘Our Sound, Our Salmon’ to oppose the expansion of Atlantic salmon net pens in Puget Sound, a longstanding goal of their organization.  

In legal action going back to 2008, the group has sued government agencies for permitting net pen use, saying they are in violation of endangered species law because of concerns about the potential effects on native salmon.

A spokeswoman for Cooke Aquaculture said via email late Monday that the company could not comment on the lawsuit because they had not yet seen the document. In prior statements, Cooke has said it is working with state, federal and tribal agencies to ensure this incident is not repeated.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to