Cooke Aquaculture has applied for permits to resume industrial fish farming, two years after the collapse of its net pens released hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea.

The state Legislature is phasing out Atlantic salmon farming in the wake of the collapse. Now Cooke Aquaculture is applying to raise steelhead and rainbow trout at its remaining floating facilities instead. The facilities are located near Rich Passage and Skagit Bay, but may expand to additional net pens owned by Cooke in the Puget Sound.

On Oct. 1, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife announced its intent to approve the farm’s permits. Under the state Environmental Policy Act, the department determined the proposal doesn’t warrant an environmental impact statement. The proposal specifies the fish will be female, sterile and screened for diseases before entering the net pens.

The public can comment on the proposal until 5 p.m. Oct. 22.

“Given the escape of Atlantic salmon in 2017, we know that there is a heightened sense of concern around the impacts of fish aquaculture in Puget Sound,” Fish and Wildlife Program Director Kelly Cunningham said in a news release.

“We want to hear from the public about Cooke Aquaculture’s proposal and our proposed permit requirements.”

Cooke’s net pen collapsed in August 2017 at the company’s Cypress Island farm, releasing over 300,000 non-native salmon into local waters and causing concern that the Atlantic salmon might harm native salmon and trout.

The company was fined for negligence, and the leases to the affected net pen facilities were revoked.

If approved, the lastest marine aquaculture permits would allow Cooke to transport steelhead to some of its floating net pen facilities in Skagit, Clallam and Kitsap counties. The permits would be in effect for five years, with a possible extension to allow Cooke to raise steelhead at the Cypress Island net pens and other closed facilities if the Department of Natural Resources restores the leases for the facilities.

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