State cancels salmon farm's lease at site of net-pen collapse

FILE PHOTO: Aerial images from Air 4 show a broken net pet after a massive Thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon have been pulled from Puget Sound 

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The state has canceled the lease for a Cypress Island salmon farm where thousands of fish were accidentally released in August.

Hillary Franz, the state lands commissioner, announced on Sunday the termination of the lease for Cooke Aquaculture. It raises Atlantic salmon on the site and leases land from the Department of Natural Resources.

Last week, the state fined Cooke $332,000 for alleged violations of Washington state water quality laws because of the salmon release.

Cooke Aquaculture Pacific failed to adequately clean nets holding farmed salmon, leading to a net pen failure last summer that allowed the fish to swim away into Puget Sound, officials said in a report compiled by the state's departments of fish and wildlife, ecology and natural resources.

The nets failed because they were excessively laden with mussels and other marine organisms, the report said. That increased the drag on the nets from tidal currents and overwhelming their mooring system, the report said.

On Sunday DNR said in a letter to Cooke that its failure to maintain the facility “in good order and repair, in a clean, attractive, and safe condition” is a clear violation of the lease and the basis for termination, the agency said in a news release.

“Cooke has flagrantly violated the terms of its lease at Cypress Island,” Franz said in the news release. “The company’s reckless disregard endangered the health of our waters and our people, and it will not be tolerated.

“On behalf of all Washingtonians, and in fulfillment of my duty to protect our state’s waters, I am terminating the lease.”

"Given that Cooke Aquaculture Pacific received the notice of termination on Saturday, we will reserve comment until we’ve had the proper time to review the letter and assess its impact on our operations and our employees’ livelihoods," Joel Richardson, Vice President of Public Relations for Cooke Inc., told KOMO News in a statement released Sunday.

Last week, Cooke criticized the state's investigation as incomplete and inaccurate. The company disputed the findings, including its accounting of fish. It said Cooke employees were under state supervision when the recovered fish were counted and that the state relied on wrong estimates about average fish weight.

DNR said it will work with Cooke to end operations. DNR entered into a 15-year lease with Icicle Acquisition Subsidiary for Cypress Island in 2008. Cooke took over the site when it bought Icicle in May 2016

Franz terminated Cooke's lease in Port Angeles in December.

DNR is reviewing Cooke's operations at Rich Passage and Hope Island. "When that process is complete, Commissioner Franz will assess DNR's legal options," the news release said.

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