In August, after celebrating a First Salmon ceremony with our Lummi friends, we were touring the Tribal Center with Darryl Hillaire. His phone rang. He answered it and spoke with a grave expression and hushed tone. Cooke Aquaculture’s net-pen salmon farm on nearby Cypress Island had collapsed that morning, releasing hundreds of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound. It was a sour and alarming note to end our time with fellow salmon people.
In September, the kids and I made signs and took to the water to protest Cooke’s net-pen facility just off our home island. This net pen, the site of past viral outbreaks and source of chemical and fecal pollution, is outrageously situated adjacent to the Orchard Rocks Marine Conservation Area. The event was planned by Wild Fish Conservancy long before the Cypress Island incident, but the disaster added urgency to what we were doing. More importantly, a wider group of citizens, the media and politicians were paying attention now.
Last Friday, Governor Jay Inslee, signed into law the bill banning non-native net-pen salmon farming in Washington state. Outright victories in the fish conservation world can be few and far between, but after years of trying, this one came together quickly. Huge thanks to Wild Fish Conservancy, State Senator Kevin Ranker (who sponsored the bill), and all the activists, advocates and citizens who protested, called and raised enough of a ruckus to make this happen. It’s a big win for the Salish Sea, wild salmon, and, on a personal level, a great lesson in democracy for Skyla and Weston. We are stoked!
The protest to stop the net-pen salmon farms in Puget Sound was a bit overshadowed here (and in our lives) by the loss of our friend Bruce Hill. But in many ways, the flotilla fit the model of what Bruce always taught: It was part of a well-planned, strategic campaign (led by Wild Fish Conservancy), the kind of campaign that can actually create change. In my mind, it was also an important opportunity for the kids to participate in shaping their own future. We’ve been talking about the net pens and how they impact the Sound, and the night before, we discussed how to articulate what we were feeling in short, strong messaging for our signs. On the day of the protest, everything went perfectly. The weather was warm and calm, many boats–kayaks, SUPs, sailboats, commercial fishing boats, canoes, a boat from the Suquamish Tribe, sport-fishing boats, bow riders–showed up, and Lummi Island Wild’s enormous tender, the Galactic Ice, with our friend Riley Starks at the helm, led a procession around the dirty, putrid-smelling net pens. More importantly, the flotilla was well-attended by media, with crews from the local Island paper on up to NPR and Reuters there to cover the event. Mission accomplished.
And on the way home, with warm evening light silvery on the glassy Sound, the kids and I stopped to enjoy some of what we’re fighting to save–strong, beautiful, wild sea-run cutthroat trout. I think Bruce would approve.
Sometimes the old internet just isn’t enough. And with the catastrophic failure of Cooke Aquaculture’s open-water net-pen salmon farm on Cypress Island “spilling” hundreds of thousands of invasive Atlantic salmon into the Sound, the kids and I wanted to make sure word is out about the upcoming protest.
Now is the time to strike, as they say, while the iron is hot. In response to the Cypress disaster, the State of Washington has enacted a temporary ban on new net-pen approvals, but we really need a permanent ban. One that stops Cooke from building their new facility off the mouth of the newly restored Elwha River. And one that also gets rid of existing net pens and all their associated chemicals, drugs, waste, pathogens and parasites that kill wild salmon and pollute the public resource.
Let’s gather off the south end of Bainbridge Island, where Cooke has another net-pen anchored to the Orchard Rocks State Marine Protected Area, on September 16th and make a real statement. (For details, click HERE) I think the media, the public and our state government are finally ready to tell Cooke they and their net pens are no longer welcome in the Salish Sea.