Director's statement regarding Washington State Supreme Court ruling on Wild Fish Conservancy et al. v. WDFW and Cooke Aquaculture

January 13, 2022

We’re pleased with today’s Washington Supreme Court decision upholding the permit we issued in early 2020 to allow farming of native, all-female, sterile steelhead trout in Puget Sound.

While we understand the concerns surrounding marine net pens in Washington waters, decisions like these must always begin with a foundation of sound science. The Court conducted an extensive review of the arguments against WDFW’s permit decision and environmental analysis, and it unanimously held that WDFW’s review was “more than sufficient.” This stands as a strong endorsement of WDFW’s handling of the permit.

When the Legislature passed EHB 2957 in early 2018, it did not ban all finfish farming in Washington state, only the farming of non-native species such as Atlantic salmon. We are legally required to review an application to raise sterile steelhead through that lens.

While these net pens are not a zero-risk operation, we required Cooke Aquaculture to adhere to 29 mitigating provisions to guide operation of its facilities, to prevent and report potential disease, and to reduce the risk of fish escaping and improve reporting in the event of escape.

We remain committed to the conservation and proliferation of the state’s fish and wildlife species. We will continue to work with partners to manage marine net pen aquaculture in Washington, and require measures within our authority to minimize risk and prevent another escape like the one that occurred in 2017.

Today’s Supreme Court decision is an acknowledgment of WDFW’s statutory authority and commitment to scientific decision-making, and we appreciate the well-reasoned and comprehensive evaluation of this case.

More information: 

Supreme Court opinion

Facts and myths about permit to farm steelhead in Puget Sound