Lawmaker unveils ambitious plan to protect Salish Sea

Lawmaker unveils ambitious plan to protect Salish Sea

The bill would aim to restore salmon while cutting down on toxins and noise pollution.

A far-reaching package of laws aimed at clean water, orca whale protection, and phasing out fish farms in the Salish Sea could come before state legislators this year.

Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island plans to introduce the Salish Sea Protection Act that would fund oil spill prevention, update response plans if an oil spill happens, establish rescue tug boat efforts, and coordinate emergency efforts with Canadian officials.

His proposed Orca Whale Protection Act is threefold. The bills would focus on restoring the lack of salmon as a food source for the whales, addressing the toxins in their food web, and noise pollution from barges and tankers.

The populations of orca whales and chinook salmon, one of the whale’s primary food sources, are declining according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent 2016 Health of the Salish Sea report. Marine water quality has also shown long term decline in the Puget Sound region over the last 10 years.

Ranker emphasized the risk of oil spills in the Salish Sea from barges with more capacity for oil transport.

The orca whale bills essentially would increase enforcement of orca whale protection laws already in place requiring a certain distance between tankers and the whales’ habitat. The legislation would help the state Department of Fish and Wildlife man a permanent vessel dedicated solely to orca whale law enforcement.

In response to thousands of Atlantic salmon escaping to Puget Sound, Ranker is also proposing legislation to eliminate new leases for net pens used to raise Atlantic salmon net and other non-native fish. The new legislation would update 25-year-old regulations.

“If we like seeing orcas and wild salmon on our coast, we cannot continue to industrialize our coasts,” President of Sea Legacy Cristina Mittermier said, adding that Sea Legacy is not against healthy industry.

Cooke Aquaculture, one of the largest Atlantic salmon farming corporations using the net pens, filed suit against the Department of Natural Resources after a notice to terminate the company’s long standing lease to operate a salmon farm in Port Angeles. Cooke Aquaculture said in the lawsuit that the decision to terminate the lease is not supported by recent facts and will result in unnecessary loss of already scarce rural jobs.

Mittermier, who is a marine biologist, said potential legislation eliminating new leases on Atlantic salmon net pens comes in the nick of time. She said a large portion of farmed salmon have a virus that attacks the heart functions of salmon. When farmed salmon escape, the virus can infect wild salmon and other native fish, she said.

“We acknowledge that the fish escapement prompted some understandable fears and concerns about the impact of Atlantic salmon on the health of native stocks, but we are urging lawmakers to recognize that these fears are not borne out by the history or the best available science,” Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture wrote in a statement.

Richardson’s statement claims that Ranker’s Senate Bill 6086 would end Cooke Aquaculture’s permit to operate in the Puget Sound, costing more than 100 jobs. Ranker, however, said that the bill he is proposing would phase out the net pens they use over seven years, allowing the farms to maintain leases they already have. He said the bill also includes a re-training program for current employees to support other forms of aquaculture.

Richardson said Cook Aquaculture is supportive of other legislative approaches to regulating salmon net pens including inspections of net pen facilities, and a study of the impacts on local ecology.

The bill on potentially eliminating the new leases on the salmon net pens was heard in committee on Tuesday afternoon.

Ranker’s protection package, coincidentally, came shortly after US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program on Thursday, Jan. 4. The program opens about 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves.

The draft of the national program proposes 47 potential lease sales across the nation, seven of which are off the Pacific coast. The Strait of Juan de Fuca leads from the Pacific coast into the Salish Sea.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bothell-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bothell-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Northwest

A King County Sheriff’s Office photo of the crawlspace in which Urbano Velazquez was hiding when a K-9 unit was used. Sound Publishing file photo
King County settles $2 million dog bite lawsuit

The county agreed to pay $100,000 after being sued after a 2016 K-9 unit arrest.

Contributed by the Society for Conservation Biology 
A map showing the locations where plants have gone extinct in the U.S. and Canada since European settlers arrived.
Study: 65 plant species have gone extinct in U.S., Canada

More than 65 species of plants have gone extinct in the U.S.… Continue reading

t
Inslee announces statewide COVID-19 exposure notification tool

WA Notify uses privacy-preserving technology to help stop the spread of disease

Stock photo
Exposures at homes, workplaces, community and social gatherings spread COVID-19

Public Health—Seattle & King County report breaks down exposure settings; answers questions about spread

t
PSE electric rates to slightly increase

Natural gas prices went up a month ago

Sage Viniconis is a career performing artist in King County who’s been out of work and seeking creative outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy photo/Sage Viniconis
Puget Sound artists adapt creativity, and business sense, to pandemic

Artists Sunday is an online directory that connects artists across the county, state and nation.

Stock photo
State to spend $24 million to purchase computing devices for students

COVID-19 relief funds for students still needing computers across Washington

Most Read