May 22, 2023
US court permits aquaculture group to join lawsuit against Washington state for fish farming shutdown
The Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA) recently won the right to intervene on behalf its members in the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe's lawsuit against US state Washington's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Hilary Franz, the Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, challenging an order that shuts down fish farming in Washington.
In a hearing in Thurston County Superior Court, judge Indu Thomas rejected the argument from DNR that the Commissioner's Order banning commercial net pens had no impact on NWAA member interests, while also rejecting the notion that NWAA has, at best, an "attenuated interest."
The tribe filed its complaint in December 2022, in response to DNR's order on November 17 banning commercial net pens for aquaculture on state-owned aquatic lands, arguing that, among other things, "The Commissioner's ban is a step beyond legislative intent," as Washington's legislature has consistently commanded DNR to manage state-owned waters in a way that fosters food production and water-dependent uses.
In its decision to join the tribe in its complaint, NWAA asserts that "[t]he Commissioner's total commercial ban appears to also be overbroad and untethered to the specific science of other expert agencies," arguing that "fish farming, particularly the farming of native fish species, as enacted into state law in 2018, can be accomplished with minimal impacts to the environment."
Following a public consultation period in the fall of 2020, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ("WDFW") approved modified permits for the farming of Pacific Steelhead trout after determining the change of fish species from non-native Atlantic salmon to steelhead is not likely to change the effect on water quality.
In 2022, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the steelhead permit granted by WDFW. Furthermore, a biological opinion from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the farming of marine finfish in Puget Sound has little to no negative impact on native species such as Pacific salmon species and killer whales that feed on them, or on their habitat.
NWAA executive director Jeanne McKnight said that members of the 40-year-old aquaculture advocacy organisation are "pleased that the Court has agreed with the trade group that its members have an interest relating to the subject of this action," despite vigorous opposition from DNR.
"We question why the state's landlord, DNR, felt it necessary to oppose a business association in supporting its members' interests in such an important matter," McKnight said. "The Commissioner's order last November not only caused great harm to the hard-working families who made a living farming a nutritious product the world needs, but also harmed the many companies that supply this industry with eggs, feed, technology and market support.
"To then attempt to take away our basic right to representation of our interests in this important litigation by attempting to deny our basic right to intervene makes no sense. We are now ready to begin a new chapter for aquaculture in this region."