It’s time to call a halt to net pens in our waters, a practice that contaminates the waters every citizen enjoys, threatens our resident orcas (southern resident killer whales), and defeats the state’s extensive salmon recovery programs.
Whether it’s from the beach, while riding on a ferry or a whale-watching cruise, seeing orcas in the wild is a uniquely memorable experience. Our struggling pod of endangered southern resident killer whales – just 78 of them as of December 2016 -- add a minimum of $65-$70 million to Washington State’s economy.
Yet Washington is the only state along the orcas’ travel routes that allows net pen farming in their waters. Alaska, California, and Oregon have outlawed them.
This matters because raising Atlantic salmon in open water net pens has an abysmal safety record. Concentrated populations of these non-native fish trigger major outbreaks of viruses and transmit parasites to wild fish. Especially vulnerable are our native salmon – the primary food of our orcas.
Net pen operations dump thousands of tons of pollution into ocean waters and deposit tons more into ocean floor sediments - which condemns both orcas and wild salmon to swim, eat, hunt, and breed in a toxic aquatic feedlot environment.
Meanwhile, in a classic instance of left hand – right hand obliviousness, Washington continues spending who knows how much in wild salmon recovery efforts, removing culverts and dams, supporting hatcheries and monitoring fishing. Washington waters are home to five salmon species -- and the state has not yet found ways to balance the threatened and still surviving wild salmon with hatchery raised ones.
Maybe you’ve heard about the specially trained orca poop-sniffing dogs? They take to the seas with UW researchers that are gathering evidence showing that orcas are so stressed by a food (read salmon) shortage that the females are miscarrying their young.
Let’s remember, orca and salmon are culturally, spiritually, and economically important to all those along the Salish Sea.
And Washington alone allows – actually encourages -- raising Atlantic salmon in net pens in its waters.
The state is now developing new recommendations for managing commercial net pen aquaculture, asking Clallam County’s approval for international behemoth Cooke Aquaculture’s plans -- nearly 10 acres for 14 net pens that extend 45 feet below the water’s surface, 1.5 miles offshore.
Best answer: "No. Not here. Not anywhere in Washington waters."
The state needs to recognize that:
* Orcas and salmon are deeply woven into the cultural fabric of the Indigenous tribes and other residents along the Salish Sea.
* Residents and visitors alike enjoy our salmon, shellfish, rockfish, crabs, prawns and shrimp.
* Orcas’ survival depends on a healthy population of salmon.
* Industrial net pens threaten salmon.
Raising Atlantic salmon in the open marine waters of Washington State is a mistake. Environmentally and economically.
* Alaska, California, and Oregon have all banned Atlantic salmon net pens. Those states officially recognize the damage net pens impose on their wild fish populations, the high risk of disease, infections, parasites and potential genetic damage to salmon as well as potential impacts on wild fish, according to the Wild Fish ConservancyWild Fish Conservancy.
Then there’s the money
Wildlife watchers spend around $1 billion annually in Washington, primarily in rural areas like Clallam County. Wildlife watching activities support more than 21,000 jobs in Washington, yield $426.9 million in job income, and generate $56.9 million in state and $67.4 million a year in federal tax revenues. (These are 2002 numbers, the most current Google could find; more recent numbers would no doubt be higher.)
It makes no sense – certainly not economic sense – to risk all this to support an international corporation with a less-than-stellar record that wants to fatten its bottom line by taking advantage of the fragile ecosystem that belongs to all of us.