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Clallam County Mulls How To Handle Net Pen Aquaculture

Conservation groups are up in arms over a possible new net pen for Atlantic salmon in open waters off the Olympic Peninsula. A public hearing Tuesday in Port Angeles will touch on the issue.  

Clallam County is currently updating itsShoreline Master Program, a 258-page land use policy document that contains the county’s regulations on aquaculture. The new draft does not include a ban or moratorium on net pen farming of non-native species.

That’s in contrast to themoratorium issued by Governor Jay Insleeafter the spill of about 160,000 non-native Atlantic salmon in August. King County followed suit with a six-month ban on the practice. But Clallam County is allowing net pens with conditional use permits.

Many activists are concerned. Cooke Aquaculture, which owns the pens that collapsed, has plans to build a new floating Atlantic salmon farm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Darlene Shanfald with the North Olympic Chapter of the Sierra Club says this would be the only Washington facility out in the open water.

“These waters are really tough. And trying to set something up in the open waters is not a good idea,” she said. “They can break up. And then we’re left with all the pollution on the shores and down in the sediments and floating around Puget Sound.”

Cooke says it has to move its current facilities out of Port Angeles Harbor to make way for a new navy pier. The move was in the works before the August spill and is now on hold while the state investigates the cause of the accident.

Example photo provided by Cooke Aquaculture division to Clallam County to show what salmon farming net pens near Port Angeles would look like.

But company spokeswoman Nell Halse says Cooke knows how to farm in high energy environments. They have operations in open waters off the coasts of Maine and Scotland. The pens used in the Strait of Juan de Fuca would be similar.

“There’s an awful lot of rigor that goes into the designing of the system, into the mooring systems. And we have a great deal of experience in other locations,” Halse said.

Still, many conservation groups say it’s too risky. They plan to testify that the permits should not be granted under the county's new Shoreline Master Program, because the technology exists to farm Atlantic salmon out of the water, in upland tanks.  

But a representative from the state Department of Ecology told Clallam County Commissioners during a recent work session that putting an outright ban on this kind of aquaculture into their new Shoreline Master Program would not be allowed.  The industry is considered water-dependent, so it has to have a chance at leasing public waters.

Planning Manager Steve Gray says that is why the county is putting in the conditional use permits.               

“It’s our understanding there might be some legislation and that might change and we would reevaluate,” said Gray, referring to bills introduced in the run up to the legislative session that starts in Olympia in January. At least two seek to outlaw net pen farming of non-native species in Washington waters.

“But we can look at our neighbors in Jefferson County that adopted their Shoreline Master Program before us. They initially were going to prohibit net pen aquaculture. And Ecology would not approve their local plan, based on that prohibition,” he said.  

The Department of Ecology made Jefferson County re-do its Shoreline Master Program to include the conditional use permits.

Gray says those permits are still a stronger regulation than previously used by the county. They require more information upfront on environmental impacts and also allow for public input.

Tuesday’s public hearing in Port Angeles will cover all of the regulations in Clallam County’s draft Shoreline Master Program.  

King County will hold a hearing on its emergency moratorium on Jan. 8.

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