We are preparing four updated water quality permits in response to applications for net pen permits in Puget Sound. Until Atlantic salmon net pens are 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 already have current National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in addition to multiple other state, federal, and local permits. If the updated permits are not adopted, the facilities will continue operation under their previous permit until net pen operations are completely phased out in 2022.
Specifically, the NPDES permits are for four of Cooke Aquaculture's Atlantic salmon net pens — one near Hope Island, and three in Rich Passage near Bainbridge Island.
At this stage we are announcing that we have received the applications, see the timeline below for the full permitting process including a public comment period on the draft permit language.
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, fish feces, and the accidental release of Atlantic Salmon are the primary pollutants produced as a result of the operation of these facilities. The requirements in the permit allow us to enforce that facilities are meeting water quality standards until the net pens are phased out.
The updated permits will incorporate the lessons learned from the failure
The net pen collapse at a Cooke Cypress Island site in August 2017 and the following investigation will influence our approach to updating the permits. In order to protect Washington waters as much as possible, we plan to incorporate lessons learned, including:
- Requiring improved maintenance of the net pens.
- Working with Dept. of Fish and Wildlife to pre-position equipment in the event of a fish release.
- Requiring documentation of holes in nets that could lead to fish escape.
- Reporting of any fish that may have escaped.
- Maintaining contact information to notify area tribes in the event of a fish release.
April 2017: Cooke submits applications to renew their permits for all seven 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: Dept. of Natural Resources, Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and Ecology release the Cypress Island Atlantic Salmon Net Pen Failure Investigation and Review document.
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.
Estimated November 2018: Ecology releases draft net pen permits for 45 day public comment.
Estimated Spring 2019: Updated permits finalized.
Permit applications and current permit documents