Salmon overhead

The middle of three commercial Atlantic salmon farms in Deepwater Bay near Cypress Island was a grid of 10 net pens before collapsing Aug. 20, 2017.

The state Department of Ecology proposes strengthening water quality requirements for Atlantic salmon farms following the August 2017 collapse of one in Skagit County.

Ecology announced last week that Cooke Aquaculture, the only company raising Atlantic salmon in the state’s waters, applied for new water quality permits for four of its six remaining farms, which are also called net pen operations.

While all of Cooke’s operations in the state will be phased out by 2022 — after the Legislature voted in 2018 to ban Atlantic salmon farming in Washington — Ecology determined extra measures could help ensure water quality during the farms’ remaining years.

“We must protect our waters and native salmon from another disastrous collapse,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a news release. “Until Atlantic salmon farming ends in Washington’s waters, we are requiring these (farms) to operate under the strongest water quality protections we can put in place.”

The water quality permits are a federal Clean Water Act requirement under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit program.

The permits require companies to take certain steps to ensure water quality standards are met.

At Atlantic salmon farms, uneaten fish food, fish feces and the accidental release of Atlantic Salmon — from a few fish to the release of thousands of fish in a short time as was seen in 2017 — are the primary pollutants of concern, according to Ecology.

The proposed new water quality permits for the farms — one near Hope Island between the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation and Deception Pass State Park and three farms near Bainbridge Island west of Seattle — would require:

— Increasing underwater video monitoring

— Submitting structural integrity inspection reports certified by a qualified marine engineer to Ecology

— Improving net cleaning and maintenance procedures

— Site-specific response plans and preparedness trainings

— Maintaining contact information to notify area tribes in the event of a fish release

Ecology developed those requirements based on the investigation of the 2017 collapse of a farm near Cypress Island west of Guemes Island.

That investigation found negligence on behalf of Cooke allowed an excessive buildup of mussels and other marine organisms on the net pen. That, along with corrosion of the structure, led to its collapse under the pressure of tidal currents.

Ecology is accepting comment on the proposed permits for 60 days, and it will host a webinar Jan. 30 and a public hearing Feb. 5. in Anacortes. The public comment period opened Dec. 27 and will close Feb. 25.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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