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Cooke Threatens NAFTA Suit Over Non-Native Net Pen Farming

Cooke Aquaculture's collapsed net pen operations at Cypress Island.

Cooke Aquaculture is applauding members of a state House committee after they took no action on a bill that would have phased out net-pen farming of non-native salmon in Washington waters.

The proposed ban, SB 6086, was the first bill filed in response to Cooke’s spill of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon near Cypress Island this summer. The Canadian company owns all of the net pen operations currently in the state.

Cooke Vice President Joel Richardson testified before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. He said previous escapes when the operations were owned by American companies were larger and did not provoke lease terminations or a ban.

He also said the same of other incidents that hurt natural resources, such as refinery accidents or sewage spills. Richardson told the committee Cooke has invested more than $70 million in its operations here.

“For these reasons, we have no choice but to look at possible arbitration under NAFTA, to provide us with some protection to go after damages for our operations," he said. "But this is not a preferred option. This is not the path that we want to go down."

Instead, Cooke says it is offering to support amended legislation that would let it remain in Washington, by raising only single-sex fish. The company says that would eliminate any risk of interbreeding and colonization.  

One bill on this issue, HB 2957, remains before the Senate. It would phase out net pen farming of non-native fish and does not have Cooke’s amendment.

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