EDITORIAL | Keep fighting against net pens

Years ago a legal notice appeared in this paper in which a Norwegian company proposed placing salmon net pens in Island County. Immediately, all heck broke loose.

As often happens, residents of the affected area were ignorant of the proposal, even though it was talked about for months in Coupeville during the pre-planning process. That’s why legal notices are important to read, even though the type is small.

The Saratoga Cove Foundation was formed, as the site proposed was situated in the beautiful little cove between two heavily populated South Whidbey waterfront areas: Bells Beach and Fox Spit. Residents spent years successfully fighting net pens and helping shape the Island County shoreline plan to exclude them from permitted aquaculture.

Coupeville was left with the existing mussel rafts, which are widely accepted as an attribute to the area, and a small space was set aside on Holmes Harbor to allow a family mussel and oyster business. But big-time salmon rearing pens were, in effect, outlawed. An update last year made it even more clear that salmon net pens aren’t allowed in Island County.

The farmed salmon business is huge, however, with major operations around the world, including a few in Washington and many in British Columbia, Norway and Chile. Money talks, especially in Olympia, and that’s why a bill to assure net pen control at the local level recently died in committee.

There is not one place surrounding Whidbey and Camano islands suitable for salmon net pens. There are view issues as well as those of a business operating in residential areas; but more importantly, there are environmental issues.

Thousands or millions of penned salmon produce a huge amount of waste, and penned salmon are susceptible to diseases, such as lice infestations, that can spread to natural and hatchery salmon using the same waters. Salmon still swarm down the west side of Whidbey and back up the east side heading for the Skagit River. They already have plenty of problems without putting net pens in their way. There’s also the danger that the penned Atlantic salmon will escape and compete with natural species.

The industry wants the state to control the siting of net pens. That would be a disaster for Island County because, as we said, money talks in Olympia.

The fight is on, and this time islanders had better jump in early.

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