We're extending the deadline for accepting public comments on draft guidance designed to improve how commercial marine net pens are authorized, overseen, and managed in Washington. We are now taking public comment on the document until Aug. 5.
The draft Guidance for Marine Net Pen Aquaculture in Washington State: Regulations, Risks and Management was developed by the state departments that have a role in authorizing or permitting net pen activities in state inland marine waters: Agriculture, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources.
The agencies are required to produce the guidance as part of a report to the Washington Legislature.
Commercial marine net pens potentially pose environmental risks to water quality, native fish, shellfish, wildlife, and sensitive habitats. The draft guidance is designed to provide local governments, state agencies, project proponents, and other interested parties a clear, science-based set of practices and tools to authorize, operate, and oversee commercial net pens in ways that will reduce these risks.
The agencies are not making a regulatory decision or issuing permits related to net pen aquaculture in Washington through this process. Policy decisions about commercial net pens are considered at the legislative level.
The guidance can play a role when local governments are considering permitting and siting new net pens within the scope of their shoreline master program. In Puget Sound alone, there are nearly 50 cities and counties with marine shorelines.
Local government might also use this guidance to inform future master program amendments. These locally-developed land-use policies and regulations guide the protection and use of Washington’s shorelines.
Following the August 2017 collapse of an array of net pens off Cypress Island that released about 250,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Washington’s waters, the state legislature enacted a law prohibiting state agencies from issuing new permits or leases for farms raising non-native fish and directed agencies to update the state’s net pen guidance. Signed by Gov. Inslee, the measure effectively ended Atlantic salmon net-pen operations in state waters by 2022.
Although no longer raising non-native fish, the four remaining commercial net pen facilities in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been permitted to raise native all-female, sterile steelhead trout. Other native fish species could also be considered for net pen aquaculture in the future.