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State guidance for commercial pens of Atlantic salmon

Washington has seven commercial marine fish farms growing Atlantic salmon in net pens. Beginning in 2015, we started leading a science-based planning effort to identify best practices for Atlantic salmon net pens.

However, when a commercial pen collapsed near Cypress Island in August 2017 releasing at least 260,000 Atlantic salmon to Puget Sound, the project was temporarily put on hold while we and the Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources responded to the incident.

In 2018, the Washington Legislature passed and Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law House Bill 2957. Part of the bill phases out the remaining Atlantic salmon net pens and prohibits new commercial nonnative fish aquaculture in state waters.

Another bill section specifically directs us and the state departments of Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources to complete the planning effort for the remaining Atlantic salmon net pens. The project will soon be restarted consistent with the legislature's direction.

New effort to build on past guidance work

Before the bill passed in March 2018, we, Fish and Wildlife, and Agriculture had been working to deliver science-based planning tools to local and tribal governments, communities, state and federal agencies, and the private aquaculture industry by 2019.

The original guidance project was not designed to change state laws or regulations. Nor was it intended to deter, stop, promote, or expand commercial Atlantic salmon aquaculture in Washington.
Our earlier work was focused specifically on insuring any new commercial Atlantic salmon net pen facilities would be sited and operated based on current science and knowledge. This work included developing:

  • A technical report summarizing the state-of-the-science and best practices for managing Atlantic salmon net pen aquaculture.
  • A spatial screening tool to be incorporated into our Coastal Atlas to help local, state, and federal regulators and the aquaculture industry avoid shoreline use conflicts and ecosystem impacts.

Project background

Besides our state agency partners, our planning efforts also received technical assistance from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, part of NOAA. Staff from the Port Gamble S'Kallam Tribe and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also provided advice to the state team.

While the project area included Puget Sound and Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay coastal estuaries (Project Area map), the team had been considering potential effects commercial net pens could have outside this area.

Accomplishments to date

The team completed the following draft products that have been reviewed by state experts and select external reviewers: