The company whose collapsed fish farm off Cypress Island in August 2017 allowed hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon to be released into the region's waters may use its remaining net pens to raise steelhead trout.
That company, Cooke Aquaculture, has applied for permits to begin raising steelhead at its floating facilities in Puget Sound, where the state Legislature no longer allows the raising of Atlantic salmon.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife announced plans to approve those permits. Fish & Wildlife also determined the proposal doesn't warrant an environmental impact statement, or EIS, under the state Environmental Policy Act.
"This proposal will likely not have a significant adverse impact on the environment," Fish & Wildlife documents state.
That determination hinges largely on Cooke's proposal to use only female fish and to ensure they are sterile — steps the company and Fish & Wildlife say will prevent the fish from spawning with wild fish and impacting the genetics of those wild species.
The steelhead also differ from the Atlantic salmon in that they are native to the region.
Fish & Wildlife is taking public 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 & Wildlife Fish 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.”
If approved, the five-year marine aquaculture permits would allow Cooke to begin transporting steelhead to some of its net pen facilities, or fish farms, in Skagit, Kitsap and Clallam counties.
In Skagit County, the permit would allow Cooke to raise steelhead at its Hope Island farm, near the Kukutali Preserve portion of Deception Pass State Park.
That facility is one of several where Atlantic salmon are still being raised as the state phases out the practice through 2022.
The permit could also be extended to allow Cooke to raise steelhead at its remaining two net pens at Cypress Island and other closed facilities in Puget Sound should the state Department of Natural Resources restore or issue new leases for the facilities.
Those leases were revoked in late 2017 and early 2018 after state investigators found the company guilty of negligence for failing to properly clean and maintain its net pens.
In June 2016, Cooke took ownership of all fish farms in the state's marine waters. Various companies have raised salmon and trout species at those farms since the 1970s.