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Comment Period

Draft modified water quality permits to raise steelhead

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific

Sept. 9, 2020 - Oct. 27, 2020, 11:59 p.m.

We invite you to comment on the draft modifications to four Cooke Aquaculture Pacific (Cooke) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Puget Sound water quality net pen permits.

The modifications would allow Cooke to raise all-female, sterile rainbow trout, also known as steelhead. In order to change the species they are farming, the company must go through a multi-agency, multi-step permitting process. Our role is to consider how the new species may affect the discharges from the operation and what is required to be in the permit to make sure that water quality is protected. 

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulates ecological impacts of marine aquaculture. It approved and issued its Marine Aquaculture Permit allowing Cooke to farm this native salmon in Puget Sound. We included WDFW's mitigations and continue to strengthen the permit requirements to ensure water quality is protected. Changes to the permits include:

  • Clarifying that any fish reared in Cooke’s net pens are prohibited from release.
  • Adding requirements and details on how to notify state agencies of events that could potentially lead to fish escape.
  • Increasing monitoring and reporting of potential fish escape during stocking and harvesting.
  • Adding monthly reporting for fish feed consumption.
  • Adding details on how nets must be maintained.
  • Adding a requirement to study new technologies and propose alternatives that reduce waste from feed.

To raise fish in net pens, Ecology requires individual NPDES water quality permits for each facility.The permit is the tool that requires best management practices, monitoring, and reporting to make sure water quality standards are met.

As steelhead are native to Washington, they are not part of the 2018 law phasing out non-native species in marine fish farming by 2022. However, if we modify the permits it will not extend the life of the permits, which expire in 2024. The current permits were originally issued to allow for two years of closure activities and monitoring after the facilities aquatic lands leases from the Washington Department of Natural Resources expire in 2022.

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Laurie Niewolny
Water Quality Program, Headquarters
P.O. Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504-7600
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Stacy Galleher
Communication consultant
stacy.galleher@ecy.wa.gov
360-407-6722

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