(The Center Square) — Fishing industry leaders have joined at least one indigenous tribe and some members of the scientific community in decrying the executive decision by Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to ban the 40-year practice of commercial fish farming in state-owned waters.
“This sudden decision to terminate leases without any scientific or legal basis, of a company that spent five years working with the State of Washington to meet its rigorous new net pen guidelines, should concern every business that leases public lands here in Washington,” the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance said in a news release, adding, “Our coalition has four words for Commissioner Franz: You got it wrong.”
NWAA is a trade association representing aquaculture producers and related businesses in the Pacific region, with member companies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, British Columbia, and Alaska.
When announcing her decision Nov. 18, Franz cited safety as a primary concern. “As we’ve seen too clearly here in Washington, there is no way to safely farm finfish in open sea net pens without jeopardizing our struggling native salmon,” Franz said in a statement. Her executive order also cited the “irreplaceable public heritage” of the state’s aquatic lands and the danger of damage to the aquatic ecosystem as a rationale for the ban.
However, the National Marine Fisheries Service released an opinion in February, based on a study of net-pen farming in Washington, stating that it found no negative impact on wild salmon, Orcas, and other endangered species due to fish farming.
The immediate impact of the ban will be the slaughter of 332,000 juvenile fish currently under cultivation, equating to the loss of nearly 2.7 million meals, according to NWAA.
This comes at a time when inflation in food prices is currently 10.9% over last year, according to the USDA. The United States imports 70% of the seafood it consumes, according to the NOAA.
The NWAA statement is the latest protest of Franz’s decision. While some indigenous leaders have praised the move, the federally recognized Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe disagrees with the state’s solution, citing the need for aquaculture to avoid overharvesting native fish stocks.
“Fin Fish and shellfish have always been an integral part of the S’Klallam culture as sustenance, as well as the traditions associated with harvest, preparation, celebration and commerce,” the tribe’s statement said.
“Tragically, population growth, pollution, and development activities in the Pacific Northwest have negatively impacted our wild Fish stocks,” the S’Klallam Tribe contended, “and our Tribe firmly believes that take the pressure off wild fish harvesting through sustainable marine aquaculture is a viable 21st century option.”
Brett Davis contributed to this story.