WE DID IT! DNR Denies New Net Pen Leases In Historic Victory For Wild Salmon, Orcas, & The Health Of Puget Sound

WE DID IT! DNR Denies New Net Pen Leases In Historic Victory For Wild Salmon, Orcas, & The Health Of Puget Sound

Today, we are beyond thrilled to share a massive environmental victory for wild salmon, orcas, and the health of Puget Sound that we have all worked so hard to achieve.

Over the past five years, through the Our Sound, Our Salmon campaign and coalition, we’ve been fighting together tooth and nail in the Courts, the legislature, and through direct appeals to state officials, calling for an end to the dangerous commercial net pen industry that threatens the health of Puget Sound.

Now, thanks to the unwavering advocacy of our broad-based coalition, Tribal Nations, elected officials, global partners, and so many others— WE DID IT! 

Washington state has finally taken bold action to end commercial net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound.

Yesterday, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and her staff at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made a groundbreaking announcement that they will no longer lease our public waters to Cooke Aquaculture. Yesterday, DNR delivered a letter to the company’s executives notifying them that DNR denied their applications for new 12-year leases to operate net pens in Puget Sound. Cooke now has until December 14th to harvest any remaining fish and completely remove all of their facilities and debris from our public waters. 

As the sole commercial net pen operator in Washington, this historic and monumental decision will effectively eliminate this industry from Puget Sound by the end of the year. In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, it’s finally time to say goodbye to Cooke Aquaculture.

“Since the catastrophic Cypress Island net pen collapse in 2017, I have stood tall to defend the waters of Puget Sound. This effort began by terminating finfish net pen operations due to lease violations. Despite years of litigation – and a company that has fought us every step of the way – we are now able to deny lease renewals for the remaining net pen sites. Today, we are returning our waters to wild fish and natural habitat. Today, we are freeing Puget Sound of enclosed cages.

This is a critical step to support our waters, fishermen, tribes, and the native salmon that we are so ferociously fighting to save.”

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, November 14th, 2022

The importance of this decision for wild fish, water quality, and the greater health of Puget Sound cannot be overstated. Immediately, this action will cease the chronic untreated pollution that has been discharged every single day by this industry over the past thirty years. Finally, these heavily polluted and degraded sites will have the opportunity to heal and begin the process of natural restoration as part of the largest passive restoration project in Washington’s history.

Wild fish will migrate freely through Puget Sound without the risk of exposure to viruses, parasites, and diseases amplified and spread at unnatural levels by massive densities of farmed fish, and Washington will never face the risk of another catastrophic net pen collapse ever again. 

We also cannot emphasize enough the importance of this dfor the public’s use and enjoyment of Puget Sound. For the first time in three decades, DNR’s decision will restore the public and Tribal access to over 130 acres of Puget Sound that have been restricted and degraded by this industry for far too long.

Beyond Washington, Commissioner Franz’s decision is finally uniting the entire U.S. Pacific Coast in excluding this industry from marine waters. Combined with Canada’s recent commitment to transition this same industry out of British Columbia’s marine waters, this decision has the potential to eliminate a major limiting factor to wild Pacific salmon recovery at a coastwide and international scale.

Washington’s decision to end commercial salmon aquaculture will also serve as an important model that will be leveraged by communities and governments around the world working toward the same goal in their public waters. Wild Fish Conservancy is proud to be a member of the Global Salmon Farming Resistance, a global alliance of organizations working together to protect marine ecosystems around the world from the commercial net pen industry.

All and all, today’s massive environmental victory demonstrates what is possible when the public unifies their voices and works together with the law and science on their side toward the shared goal of a healthier Puget Sound.

Our Sound, Our Salmon Flotilla protest, October 2017


Even more exciting still, on Friday, Commissioner Franz has scheduled a press conference where she will announce DNR is setting new state policy to ensure the protection of Puget Sound into the future. The news will be delivered at 11:00 am on Bainbridge Island overlooking the net pens in Rich Passage on the very same beach where we held the Our Sound, Our Salmon flotilla protest back in 2017.  Wild Fish Conservancy is honored to participate in this historic event alongside Commissioner Franz and Tribal Nations, and we encourage you to come join us to celebrate this major announcement. We’ll send out more information later this week with details for those interested in joining for the event. 

Over the last two years of calling on Commissioner Franz to make the right decision for wild salmon, orcas, tribal treaty rights, and the health of Puget sound, her recent decision demonstrates she heard our voices loud and clear. We could not be more grateful to Commissioner Franz and her team for their dedication and commitment to protecting the health of Puget Sound for current and future generations. In the days to come, we’ll be reaching out with opportunities to thank Commissioner Franz for making this monumental environmental success possible. 

But even as we celebrate Commissioner Franz, it’s clear that this victory for wild salmon, orcas, and Puget Sound belongs to no one person or group. Without the actions of thousands of individuals, Washington’s Tribal Nations, businesses, organizations, chefs, fishing groups, scientists, elected officials, moms and dads, and others working together over so many years, this victory would never have been possible.

Working together, we took back Puget Sound.

Thank you to the nearly 10,000 individuals and 130 businesses and organizations supporting the Taking Back Our Sound petition to Commissioner Hilary Franz.

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