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State guidance for commercial pens of Atlantic salmon

Washington has eight commercial marine fish farms growing Atlantic salmon in net pens. In 2015, we started leading a state effort to identify and apply best practices based on today's science and knowledge.

This project is currently on hold while we work with the Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources to respond, review, and investigate the Cypress Island net pen collapse and release of Atlantic salmon to Puget Sound. This incident provided a real-time example of how the commercial net-pen industry, state and federal agencies, and tribal governments are able to respond to a large-scale fish escape.

New commercial net-pen guidance

The purpose of this project was to develop new commercial net pen guidance by 2019. We led the project in partnership with the state departments of Agriculture and Fish and Wildlife. The effort also received technical assistance from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, part of NOAA. Staff from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also provided advice to the state project team.

Project background

The project was never intended to deter, stop, promote, or expand commercial Atlantic salmon aquaculture in Washington. Instead, it had two main objectives:
  • Ensure any new Atlantic salmon net-pan facilities would be sited and managed based on current science and best available knowledge.
  • Make sure existing net-pen facilities would be operated using proven best practices.
State agencies were working to deliver science-based planning tools to local and tribal governments, communities, state, and federal agencies, and the private sector. This included:
  • A technical report summarizing the state-of-the-science and guidance for siting and managing Atlantic salmon aquaculture.
  • A spatial-screening toolbox to be incorporated into our Coastal Atlas to help the industry and local, state and federal regulators avoid shoreline use conflicts and ecosystem impacts.
The project area was Puget Sound and the Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay coastal estuaries (Project Area map); although the team was gathering information about potential effects nets pens could have outside this area.

The guidance project was evaluating commercial marine Atlantic salmon net pens only. The project did not address bait herring net pens, enhancement pens rearing Pacific salmon for release, freshwater pens, or species other than Atlantic salmon.

In relationship to regulations, the guidance project was not designed to change laws or regulations. It was designed to improve our understanding and management of this use.

Accomplishments to date

Efforts to produce a technical document and spatial-screening toolbox now are on hold. The team completed the following draft products that have been reviewed by state experts and select external reviewers: