New report condemns farmed fish escape

A damaged net pen at Cooke Aquaculture's facility on Cypress Island is shown on Tuesday

A damaged net pen at Cooke Aquaculture's facility on Cypress Island is shown on Tuesday

Cooke's previous estimates put that number at 160,000, according to the state's report. "If this company was failing at the most basic, most obvious level of maintenance, then it gives me pause about their commitment to running this kind of operation".

Cooke Aquaculture has criticized a state report saying the company failed to adequately clean nets holding farmed salmon, leading to a net pen failure that allowed the fish to swim into Puget Sound.

Washington State's Department of Ecology has fined Cooke Aquaculture $332,000 for what it calls the "negligent" release of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound.

On Tuesday, three Washington state agencies released their investigation into what happened when the Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm collapsed last August on Cypress Island north of Anacortes.

Ahead of the report's release, Cooke on Tuesday dismissed the state's investigation as incomplete and inaccurate.

"Cooke Aquacullture was negligent", said Maia Bellon, the director of the Washington Department of Ecology.

Cooke had programmed to harvest in September about 3million pounds of Atlantic salmon, which represent around 305,000 fish, in its farm located off Cypress Island.

In December, DNR terminated Cooke's lease of state aquatic lands in Port Angeles, citing a failure to maintain the facility in a safe condition.

"The collapse was not the result of natural causes", Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a statement. The company "could have and should have prevented this incident", she added.

He said Cooke acknowledges that the facility fell behind in cleaning the nets before moorings failed in July 2017.

The net pen was damaged in July, and Cooke made "shortcut repairs" while underrepresenting the severity of the damage to regulatory agencies, according to the department. But he said the company provided records showing it had washed the nets at the site after that July incident and before the August 19 event.

Cooke owns and operates commercial salmon farms at eight locations in Washington state that it acquired in 2016, and it is the nation's largest producer of farmed salmon.

In October, Franz's Department of Natural Resources announced that an inspection of Cooke's Rich Passage pens had found a handful of minor structural flaws there. Kevin Ranker, a Democrat, cleared a key fiscal committee Monday. Maralyn Chase (D-Edmonds). "Common sense should have come into play, and the facility should have taken steps to avoid this catastrophic failure that put the health of the Puget Sound at risk".

"Cooke Aquaculture was shut out of this investigation by the state agencies", said Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations at Cooke, Inc.

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