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Lawsuit from environmental groups says state's approval of net pens relies on outdated science

In this Aug. 28, 2017 photo provided by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a crane and boats are anchored next to a collapsed "net pen" used by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to farm Atlantic Salmon near Cypress Island in Washington state.
David Bergvall/Washington State Department of Natural Resources via AP
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In this Aug. 28, 2017, photo provided by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a crane and boats are anchored next to a collapsed "net pen" used by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to farm Atlantic Salmon near Cypress Island in Washington state.

Four large environmental groups are suing the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

At issue is the agency's approval of Cooke Aquaculture's plans to switch to native steelhead farming in net pens in Puget Sound. The permit would apply to four existing net pens with valid leases and possibly three more later.

Kurt Beardslee — executive director of the Wild Fish Conservancy, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit — says the environmental impact statement (EIS) the permit relies on uses scientific analysis from 1990. But many endangered and threatened species, including steelhead, killer whales and Chinook salmon have been listed within the past 30 years.

“We need to put together an environmental review that takes into consideration all of their needs, as well as water-quality issues and other issues that are important to the people of Puget Sound,” Beardslee said.  

Fish and Wildlife says the EIS from 1990 was not the basis of its decision, and that they conducted a careful review of current science.

The decision is still awaiting approval from the state Department of Ecology. Washington is the only West Coast state to allow net-pen farming. The groups suing say fish farming should be done only on land, in tanks.   

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.