We reissued four water quality permits in response to applications for net pen permits in Puget Sound. Until Atlantic salmon farming is officially banned from Puget Sound starting in 2022, companies are required to have water quality permits. These permits allow us to continue to protect state waters and ensure the companies are operating under the strongest water quality protections.
The pens have National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in addition to multiple other state, federal, and local permits.
Specifically, the NPDES permits are for four of Cooke Aquaculture's Atlantic salmon net pens — one near Hope Island in Skagit Bay, and three in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island. See locations below.
The updated permits incorporate the lessons learned from the net pen failure
Lessons learned from the net pen collapse at a Cooke Cypress Island site in August 2017 and the investigation are reflected in the updated permits. To protect Washington waters as much as possible, additional protective measures in the permits include:
- Increasing underwater video monitoring of net pens
- Conducting inspections to assess structural integrity of the net pens and submit inspection reports certified by a qualified marine engineer to Ecology
- Improving net cleaning and maintenance procedures to prevent biofouling and fish escape
- Requiring the permittee to develop site specific response plans in the event of a fish release, and to conduct and participate in preparedness trainings
- Requiring improved maintenance of the net pens
- Maintaining contact information to notify area tribes in the event of a fish release
We accepted public comments on draft permits
The draft NPDES permits were available for comment Dec. 27, 2018, through Feb. 25, 2019. We held two public hearings and one webinar hearing to receive comments. The response to comments is available in Appendix D in each of the permit fact sheets.
Why do net pen operations need a NPDES permit?
A NPDES permit is the tool that requires best management practices, monitoring, and reporting to ensure water quality standards are met. These facilities are operated to rear fish for harvest and market sale. Uneaten fish food and fish feces are the primary pollutants produced as a result of the operation of these facilities, as well as any accidental release of Atlantic salmon. The requirements in the permit allow us to enforce that facilities are meeting water quality standards until the Atlantic salmon farmed in net pens are phased out. See the timeline below.
- April 2017: Cooke submits applications to renew their permits for all eight of their net pen facilities.
- August 2017: A net pen owned by Cooke Aquaculture near Cypress Island in Skagit County failed and released Atlantic salmon into the surrounding waters.
- August 2017: Gov Inslee directs agencies to put a hold on any new permits until investigation was complete.
- January 2018: Departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Ecology release the Cypress Island Atlantic Salmon Net Pen Failure Investigation and Review document. Ecology fines Cooke $332,00 for the net pen collapse.
- March 2018: Governor Inslee signs House Bill 2957 into law. It phases out Atlantic salmon marine net pens, with all operations completely closed by 2022.
- October 2018: Ecology publishes public notice about Cooke permit applications.
- Dec. 27, 2018: Ecology releases four draft net pen permits for 60 day comment period.
- April 29, 2019: Cooke agrees to pay full $332,000 penalty
- July 11, 2019: Ecology issues final permits
- October 22, 2019: Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association v. Ecology dismissal
- August 10, 2019: Permits become effective
- January 22, 2020: WDFW approves change of species to Steelhead with some conditions. Cooke will still need to apply for an Ecology Water Quality Permit modification.
- August 9, 2024: Permits expire
Current permit documents