‘Just gross’: Seattle chefs tell the governor what they think about fish farms in Washington waters

After last month’s catastrophe, people protest on the water and call for change.

Last Saturday afternoon, I was aboard the F/V Galactic Ice, just off the south end of Bainbridge Island — only a few miles as the crow flies, plus a short, freezing swim, from Gov. Jay Inslee’s house. It was a balmy end-of-summer day with a hazy sun; every so often, the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton glided by, picturesque on the glinting water with a background of our noble fir trees. But this wasn’t a pleasure cruise. Something rotten is in the water, right there.

It’s visible from the ferry, but its purpose is obscure: a strange, low-slung, metal-and-mesh setup that seems to float on the water, an industrial blot on a lovely Pacific Northwest landscape. Closer up, you get a sense of the scale of the thing, massive enough that its two porta-potties are dwarfed, as are the uniformed guards patrolling the catwalk perimeter. Inside watery pens, enclosed by netting, fish flip themselves up out of the water, one after another, over and over. It’s a sight that usually occasions joy: Look, a fish jumped! Here, it’s contained and constant, guarded and enmeshed.

This is a net-pen fish farm. It looks like a jail, and it smells like death. It’s difficult to describe the stench that wafted in the breeze on the downwind side: fetid like fertilizer, acrid like ammonia, redolent of rot. The structure’s not far at all from Bainbridge’s shore; on a hot day, the smell at the pretty waterfront homes must be unbearable.

This fish farm is raising nonnative Atlantic salmon, just like the one that catastrophically collapsed near the San Juan Islands last month, and it’s owned by the same multinational, multibillion-dollar corporation, Cooke Aquaculture. Inslee called that situation “an emergency” and directed the Department of Ecology to put any new permits for salmon-farm net pens on hold. Now people of the Pacific Northwest are calling, urgently, for him to put a stop to net-pen fish farming in our waters altogether.

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Washington state holds the dishonor of producing the most farmed Atlantic salmon in the nation; Oregon has no such farms, while Alaska and California have banned them. Why do we let it continue here? Many Seattle chefs are aghast. Restaurateur Tom Douglas calls the practice “pillaging our waters.” Edouardo Jordan of Salare and JuneBaby terms it “shocking.” Renee Erickson, of The Walrus…

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