90% of all seafood consumed in US markets is imported, half of which is grown in aquaculture, the process of farming and harvesting commercial aquatic products. Puget Sound is home to four such facilities that breed rainbow trout in underwater enclosures that conservationists say endanger native species. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in an analysis of these aquaculture facilities, says they are likely not the sole cause of the chinook salmon extinction.
These four pens are owned by Cooke Aquaculture, a company that until recent years farmed Atlantic salmon in the waters of Puget Sound until their fish pens outside of Cypress Island broke down. , dumping an estimated 4,000 non-native salmon into the Sound and the Pacific Ocean. Cooke Aquaculture would settle with the nonprofit Wild Fish Conservancy in 2019, agreeing to switch their product to native rainbow trout.
Cooke’s leases on four paddocks in Skagit Bay, Clam Bay, Fort Ward and Orchard Rocks, five-year leases issued between 2020 and 2021, withstood recent challenges in the Washington State Supreme Court. In January, the court issued a unanimous decision upholding the permits thanks to a challenge by environmental groups including the Wild Fish Conservancy.
As a result of this decision, NOAA issued a biological opinion – risk analysis of the impact of aquaculture on native, threatened or endangered species – in the assessment of Cooke’s leases through the EPA.
The notice concludes that the lease “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of chinook salmon, rainbow trout, Hood Canal summer chum…Furthermore, we conclude that the proposed action is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse alteration of the designated site critical habitats for any of the listed species.
The advisory analyzed a number of potential impacts the enclosures could have on native species, largely concluding that farmed fish will “negatively impact” native species and habitat, with the precision that enclosures alone are not likely to bring in endangered species such as Chinook salmon. to extinction.
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“After years of meticulous research and study, NOAA scientists have concluded, with complete scientific certainty, that net-pen aquaculture in Puget Sound is environmentally safe and harmless to species. endangered that live in these waters,” said the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance. President Jim Parsons wrote in a statement.
“The fact that this industry celebrates its operations will not cause the immediate extinction of our threatened and endangered species, but rather continue to contribute to their decline is an unacceptably low bar,” said Emma Helverson, Executive Director of Wild. Fish. Conservancy, wrote in a statement.
Clarifying the discrepancies between how the two organizations interpreted the opinion, NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein told MyNorthwest:
“It is not to the point of jeopardizing the future of the species…although there may be impacts, it does not increase to the point of destroying or adversely altering the fact that a [pen] can no longer be used.
Potentially harmful effects of fish farming include the use of antibiotics, fertilizers and disinfectants which can damage sediment and water quality, escaped fish which can disrupt the gene pool of wild fish, producing offspring hybrid too weak to survive.