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US county to allow net pens

Canada: While the use of net pens in the ocean for the production of cultured fish has been frowned upon by many environmental groups, somebody is working to remove a long-held ban on such activities “because a negative environmental impact could not be proven”

Odd Grydeland

If there is one issue that unifies Canadian environmental groups in their campaign against salmon farming, it is their battle cry for the whole-scale mandatory adoption of some form of man-made “closed-containment” rearing system- most of which would involve growing salmon in high densities in order for the operator to try to pay the bills, and in environments far removed from the more natural setting of a floating net pen with ocean currents flowing through it. While net pen salmon farming has been carried out in Washington State for many years, one State County has had a 30+ year old ban on the practice. The Jefferson County is now reconsidering this policy, as these excerpts from an article in the Port Angeles-based Peninsula Daily News by reporter Charlie Bermant explains;

Jefferson County officials are considering where and how to permit net pen aquaculture, which has been prohibited in the county for decades. The three county commissioners Tuesday heard a report from the county Department of Community Development discussing state objections to the county's proposed revision of its shoreline management program. No action was taken after a two-hour discussion on the state Department of Ecology's list of mandatory and optional changes to the plan.

Ecology's objections

Although Ecology accepted most of the plan, one of the state's objections to it was to its prohibition of the farming of salmon and other fish in net pens. Net pens have been prohibited in Jefferson County since 1979, said Al Scalf, DCD director. “We can no longer forbid net pens,” he said, “but we are now looking to develop places where we can allow them.” Ecology said the county could not prohibit net pens because a negative environmental impact could not be proven. County planners listed nine locations where net pens possibly could be allowed and are designing strict criteria for the granting of permits.

The new policy would not forbid the use of chemicals in fish farming but would require that the facility owner “demonstrates that all significant impacts have been mitigated.” “The regulations need to be more specific and provide us with the highest level of protection,” said planner Michelle McConnell. Commissioners decided at least one public hearing is necessary on the net pen aquaculture aspect of the plan, though it is not required by law. The public hearing will be scheduled in mid-March.

On Jan. 27, Ecology issued conditional approval of Jefferson County's updated shoreline master program — taking issue with the plan's flexible buffer zones of 100 feet to 150 feet and its direction for dock length as well as its prohibition of net pen aquaculture. Ecology said the county's plan needs to be more clearly defined as to the boundaries of buffers, which are areas in which development is not permitted in order to protect waterways.

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