Public asked to comment on draft commercial fish net pen guidance

Olympia, WA – The Department of Ecology is now accepting public comments on draft guidance designed to improve how commercial marine net pens are authorized, overseen, and managed in Washington.

The guidance was developed by the state departments that have a role in authorizing or permitting net pen activities in state inland marine waters: Agriculture, Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources.

On behalf of the interagency team, Ecology is accepting comments on the draft Guidance for Marine Net Pen Aquaculture in Washington State: Regulations, Risks and Management now through June 21.

Commercial marine net pens potentially pose environmental risks to water quality, native fish, shellfish, wildlife, and sensitive habitats.

The draft guidance is designed to provide local governments, state agencies, project proponents and other interested parties a clear, science-based set of practices and tools to authorize, operate, and oversee commercial net pens in ways that will reduce these risks.

The draft guidance also makes recommendations for future legislative oversight including: a future inter-agency report on state regulatory progress; data gaps and research that could better inform management; and funding an economic and engineering study to examine what minimum standard technology net pens should use to further reduce impacts to Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Following the August 2017 collapse of an array of net pens off Cypress Island that released about 250,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Washington’s waters, the state legislature enacted a law prohibiting state agencies from issuing new permits or leases for farms raising non-native fish and directed agencies to update the state’s net pen guidance. Signed by Gov. Inslee, the measure effectively ended Atlantic salmon net-pen operations in state waters by 2022.

Although no longer raising non-native fish, the four remaining commercial net pen facilities in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca have been permitted to raise native all-female, sterile steelhead trout. Other native fish species could also be considered for net pen aquaculture in the future.

Comments on the draft guidance are due by June 21, 2021. The draft and information on how to comment can be found on the guidance webpage. The state agencies will review and consider comments into the final guidance and submit that to the Legislature later this summer.