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Earthrise Settles Case Protecting Wild Salmon

March 17, 2020

On February 11, 2020, Earthrise Law Center, the environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School, settled a case protecting wild salmon from a net pen collapse that released hundreds of thousand non-native Atlantic salmon into the Puget Sound.

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. The Atlantic salmon released from the pen collapse 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.

After more than two years of 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 an important precedent for future Clean Water Act citizen suits. Most importantly, the court agreed with Earthrise’s 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 ’13 and Kevin Cassidy ’02 litigated the case on behalf of Earthrise. Co-counselors included Lewis & Clark Law School alums Brian Knutsen ’04 and Emma Bruden ’16 from the law firm Kampmeier and Knutsen, PLLC, and Paul Kampmeier. The attorneys were greatly assisted by former Earthrise legal fellow Doug Deroy ’16, current legal fellows Morgan Staric ’18 and Dani Replogle ’19, Earthrise’s Program Assistant Alex Davis, and several current and/or former clinical students, including Jesse Caldwell ’20, Lucy Lefkowitz ’21, Shanna McCormack ’20, Declan McGarry ’22, Josh Masser, ’21 Cooper Rodgers ’19, Ross Stansberry ’19, and Zeslie Zablan ’19.

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