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Ecology Director Maia Bellon. (Photo: Washington State Dept. of Ecology)

Cooke Aquaculture fined for negligence that led to salmon escape

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Wednesday, January 31, 2018, 23:20 (GMT + 9)

The Washington Department of Ecology decided to fine Cooke Aquaculture Pacific with USD 332,000 for the "negligent release" of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound.

The state agency argues that the aquaculture company violated its water quality permit before and during the collapse of a network cage installed near Cypress Island, which occurred in August 2017.

“This investigation confirms Cooke Aquaculture was negligent in operating its net pen. What’s even worse is that Cooke absolutely could have – and should have – prevented this incident,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

Cooke has been fined specifically for poor net cleaning and maintenance, failing to follow required protocol for repairs and insufficient attention to engineering.

"The collapse was not the result of natural causes. Cooke's disregard caused this disaster and recklessly put our state's aquatic ecosystem at risk," said Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

The net pen structure suffered damage in late July 2017, but Cooke underestimated the severity of that event to Ecology and other regulatory agencies. Shortcut repairs were then made without professional engineering review and failed.

As the company did not carry out proper maintenance works, it led to excessive buildup of mussels, seaweed, and other marine life. These made the nets too heavy, weighing more than 11 tonnes from the two tonnes they should weigh.

Cooke Aquaculture rejected findings of the state investigation.

"Cooke Aquaculture was shut out of this investigation by state agencies: As a result, investigators with limited experience in aquaculture or net pen operations have produced an inaccurate and misleading document that appears intended to fuel the push by aquaculture opponents to put Cooke out of business in Washington," said Joel Richardson, vice president for public relations at Cooke.

In the net pen that collapsed there were about 305,000 Atlantic salmon and the company reported extracting 145,000 salmon from it.

The investigation concluded that Cooke could only have taken between 42,000 and 62,000 fish. Therefore, 243,000 to 263,000 fish actually escaped, far higher than previous estimates, based on Cooke's reports, that summed up 160,000 fish.

Related articles:

-Biofouling could have caused Cooke's cage collapse
-Washington state to cancel Cooke Atlantic salmon farm lease
-Cooke Aquaculture fined for repeated water quality violations

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