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Earthrise Settles Case to Protect Wild Salmon

March 03, 2020

  • The aftermath of the catastrophic net pen collapse.

Earthrise has been helping its clients to protect and restore native salmon species and their habitat in the Pacific Northwest since our inception nearly 25 years ago. It is a core part of our work and we have been successful over the years in mitigating the effects of dams on salmon runs and requiring federal and state governments to set appropriate temperature and toxics standards for salmon streams, among other environmental benefits.

Most recently, Earthrise represented the Wild Fish Conservancy in a Clean Water Act citizen suit against Cooke Aquaculture Pacific stemming from the 2017 catastrophic collapse of Cooke’s net pen that resulted in hundreds of thousands of non-native Atlantic salmon being released into Puget Sound. The Atlantic salmon posed a threat to imperiled native salmon through the spread of disease and competition, as well as through the risk of interbreeding with native fish. In addition to the net pen that collapsed, Cooke was operating seven other pens in Puget Sound with deficient engineering that increased the risk of future fish releases.

On February 11, 2020, after more than two years of hotly contested litigation, the district court in the Western District of Washington entered a Consent Decree that settled the litigation favorably for Wild Fish Conservancy. The agreement requires Cooke to upgrade its existing net pens with engineering and loading analyses that meet current international standards for safety and suitability for the strong ocean currents present in Puget Sound. The agreement also requires Cooke to pay $1.15 million to fund environmental projects to protect wild salmon and killer orcas in Puget Sound.

“This is truly a victory for the future of our sound,” said Kurt Beardslee, executive director of Wild Fish Conservancy. “Open water net pen aquaculture is a risky business, and thanks to this settlement we are one step closer to getting this dirty industry out of Puget Sound once and for all.”

The settlement followed several favorable rulings from the district court that set important precedent for future Clean Water Act citizen suits. Most importantly, the court agreed with our position that the state of Washington’s settlement with Cooke resulting in a $332,000 penalty did not preclude Wild Fish Conservancy from proceeding with its claim regarding the collapsed pen. “We’re thankful for the Judge’s ruling and hope the severity of these penalties will be a deterrent to anyone seeking to expand or establish open water net pen aquaculture in Puget Sound and beyond,” said Beardslee.

Lia Comerford and Kevin Cassidy litigated the case on behalf of Earthrise, and we co-counseled the case with fellow Lewis & Clark Law School alums Brian Knutsen and Emma Bruden from the law firm Kampmeier and Knutsen, PLLC, and Paul Kampmeier. The attorneys were greatly assisted by former Earthrise legal fellow Doug Deroy, current legal fellows Morgan Staric and Dani Replogle, Earthrise’s Program Assistant Alex Davis, and several current and/or former clinical students, including Jesse Caldwell, Lucy Lefkowitz, Shanna McCormack, Declan McGarry, Josh Masser, Cooper Rodgers, Ross Stansberry, and Zeslie Zablan.

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