State guidance for commercial marine net pens

Washington has four commercial, marine finfish net-pen facilities operating in Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. All are owned by one company that raises non-native Atlantic salmon.

Beginning in 2015, we started leading a science-based planning effort to improve oversight of Atlantic salmon net pens. However, when a commercial pen collapsed near Cypress Island in August 2017 releasing at least 240,000 Atlantic salmon to Puget Sound, the project was temporarily put on hold while state agencies responded.

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 in 2022 and prohibits new commercial non-native finfish 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.

Besides the state agency partners, this project receives substantial technical assistance from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, part of NOAA. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, tribal governments, and academic institutions listed in the bill also are project partners.

 

Creating planning tools

This project will deliver three planning tools for Washington.

  • Written guidance — A report summarizing the best science and practices applicable to Washington. This report will inform oversight of Atlantic salmon net pens until they are phased out, and management of new commercial marine net pens of native species.

  • Spatial screening tool in Washington's Coastal Atlas — Data layers will be added to the Coastal Atlas that are useful for screening new commercial marine net-pen proposals. Local, state, and federal regulators and the aquaculture industry will be able to identify potential use conflicts and ecosystem impacts.

  • Legislative report — We must report our findings to the legislature by November 1, 2019.

Project schedule

We plan to deliver draft guidance for public review and comment in late spring 2019.

  • Now through winter 2019 — Project team develops draft written guidance and spatial screening tool
  • Early spring 2019 — Project partners provide comments on an early draft
  • Late spring 2019 — The public provides comments on a revised draft
  • Summer 2019 — State agencies conduct their final review and approval
  • Fall 2019 — Ecology publishes the written guidance and launches the spatial screening tool
  • November 2019 — State agencies report their findings to the Legislature

Project area

While the project area includes all of Washington’s marine waters, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca are focus areas. These bodies of water have existing Atlantic salmon net pens, and the depth and currents appropriate for net-pen aquaculture. The project team is also looking broadly across the body of science to better understand the effects commercial net pens have outside their immediate location.

Project materials

The project team has completed an outline for the written guidance. This is modified from an earlier version and includes native species in response to legislative direction. The team has also completed a summary of legal authorities and requirements. The draft written guidance and other materials will be provided as they become available. Please check back.

How we'll use the results

Gov. Inslee and the state agencies are working to ensure that commercial finfish net-pen aquaculture does not put Pacific salmon recovery at risk. We recognize this is an ambitious target since all human uses of our marine environment pose potential risks. The written guidance and the Coastal Atlas screening tool will help state agencies identify and address risks from both existing and future commercial net pens in marine waters.
 
The state is purposely not addressing other species, freshwater aquaculture, fisheries enhancement pens, or baitfish rearing pens. The science and guidance provided will not be intended for designing, siting or operating non-commercial net pens or managing other species.
 
The guidance project is designed to deliver recommendations for future consideration by state managers, and will not directly change state laws or regulations. Nor is it intended to deter, stop, promote, or expand commercial aquaculture in Washington.