Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, announced on Sunday the termination of Cooke Aquaculture’s lease for its Cypress Island facility. Cooke Aquaculture (Cooke) raises Atlantic salmon at the site and leases the aquatic lands from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
On Tuesday, state investigators released their finding that Cooke’s failure to properly clean and maintain its facility was the primary cause of the August 19 net pen collapse at Cypress Island.
The investigation revealed that, due to improper cleaning and neglect, Cooke allowed 110 tons of mussels and marine organisms to accumulate on the pen’s nets. Tidal currents pushing against the mass of organisms on the nets overwhelmed the pen’s mooring system and crushed the pen.
In its termination letter to Cooke, DNR outlined that Cooke’s failure to maintain the facility “in good order and repair, in a clean, attractive, and safe condition” is a clear violation of the lease and the basis for termination.
“Cooke has flagrantly violated the terms of its lease at Cypress Island,” said Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands. “The company’s reckless disregard endangered the health of our waters and our people, and it will not be tolerated.
“On behalf of all Washingtonians, and in fulfillment of my duty to protect our state’s waters, I am terminating the lease.”
Other lease violations noted in the termination letter include:
- Anchors outside of the leasehold,
- Facility additions added without the consent of DNR, and
- Failure to maintain another net pen at the site, one which is in poor condition and in danger of catastrophic failure.
In 2008, DNR entered into a 15-year lease with Icicle Acquisition Subsidiary (Icicle) for the Cypress Island site. Cooke assumed this lease when it purchased Icicle in May 2016. DNR will work with Cooke to end operations at the site in a timely and safe manner.
In December, Commissioner Franz terminated Cooke’s lease of state aquatic lands in Port Angeles, citing a failure to maintain the facility in a safe condition as required by its lease.
DNR is currently reviewing Cooke’s other Atlantic salmon facilities – at Rich Passage and Hope Island. When that process is complete, Commissioner Franz will assess DNR’s legal options.