Congress to Consider Fish Farming Legislation – Cantwell Highlights Need for Safety, Citing 2017 Salmon Spill in Puget Sound

October 16, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation prepares to consider legislation to encourage more aquaculture fish farming in American waters, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the committee, raised concerns about the risks of offshore finfish farming in a hearing this morning. In her remarks, Cantwell highlighted the 2017 spill of nearly 263,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. Jeremiah Julius, the Chairman of the Lummi Nation, testified at the hearing at Cantwell’s invitation about the spill’s impact on Tribal treaty rights, the health of wild salmon, and the Salish Sea ecosystem.

“The fish farm failure compromised the economic livelihoods of many people. And yet there was no plan in place for how to respond to that spill,” Cantwell said. “Recognizing that their sacred and protected resources were at risk, the Lummi Nation and their Tribal partners sprang into action to catch the escaped fish.”

In highlighting the risks that fish farming can pose to maritime ecosystems, Cantwell referenced a more recent spill in Canada and talked about NOAA’s lack of action: “We’ve heard very little in response from NOAA about how to deal with these spills, or the fact that I believe they didn’t take the spill in Washington seriously enough… Let me be clear: poorly-managed and under-regulated offshore aquaculture poses a direct threat to our marine ecosystems and domestic fisheries.”

While Cantwell used the hearing to point out the risks of poorly regulated finfish aquaculture, science-based shellfish aquaculture plays an important role in the maritime economy of the Pacific Northwest. Washington state’s $270 million shellfish industry supports more than 3,000 jobs in the state’s coastal communities; shellfish farming is the largest employer in Pacific County and the second largest employer in Mason County. 

In his testimony, Chairman Julius spoke about the importance of aquaculture when properly managed.

“While aquaculture presents many threats, it has also been essential to keeping the fishing traditions of the Lummi people alive. Due to habitat destruction, previous management practices by state and local governments, climate change, and many other reasons, the fish populations in the Salish Sea have been decimated and are a fraction of their historic levels. In order to maintain even the most meager of fisheries my people have relied on finfish and shellfish hatcheries to maintain our way of life and provide for our families,” Julius said.

Throughout her time in the Senate, Cantwell has been a leading advocate of fisheries communities and sustainable fisheries management. Senator Cantwell helped secure funding for Washington communities with fisheries disasters and advocated for changes to the process to ensure Washington state fishermen are covered. Cantwell has also led the fight to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the largest salmon fisheries in the world.

Video from Senator Cantwell’s opening statement is available HERE, and audio is available HERE.

Video from Senator Cantwell’s witness Q&A is available HERE, and audio is available HERE.

Video from Chairman Julius’s statement is available HERE.