March 6, 2018 VIA USPS
Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Re: Request to Veto HB 2957
We are writing to respectfully request that you veto HB 2957. We believe that HB 2957is a reactionary measure that will accomplish very little in terms of fisheries’ health, will hurt many families living in rural communities who are dependent upon Cooke for employment and livelihood and will impose unfair and punitive measures on our company.
When my family decided to purchase American Gold Seafoods, we did so in part based upon the reputation that you and other State leaders had for fair dealing in the recruitment of new and sustainable businesses to Washington State. Based upon the reputation of State leadership and our belief that Washington was a state that would be good for business, Cooke purchased facilities that were aging and in disrepair with the aim of investing in those facilities and the communities within which we operate. We rescued two American companies from certain bankruptcy, saving hundreds of jobs and willingly committing to spending millions of dollars to bring Washington’s fish farms up to the highest standard. Cooke is still deeply committed to its employees and the communities in which it operates.
Unfortunately, after seeking to invest in the state and local communities both before and after the Deepwater Bay incident, and after seeking to demonstrate good corporate citizenship, the Cooke family feels that the State has failed to make a reciprocal effort to deal with us in good faith. Cooke responded, rapidly, to your request that we compensate all fishers for their efforts to recover fish which escaped into Puget Sound as a result of the Site 2 structure’s collapse. What we implemented is unprecedented in the history of Atlantic salmon escapes in Washington. Cooke, paid almost $1.5 million dollars ($30 per fish) to the tribal fishers who endeavored to recapture escaped fish.
Cooke also sought to identify non-tribal commercial fishers who similarly captured fish that escaped from our collapsed structure and ensured that those fishers were fairly compensated. And, Cooke spent $1.5 million to clear the Deepwater Bay seafloor of sunken structural debris as well as accumulated trash left there by other parties since over many decades. Each of the steps my family’s company has taken was done in order to demonstrate to you and other State leaders that the Cooke family of business are good corporate citizens.
However, the State response to our efforts is lacking entirely in good faith. Rather than seeking to engage in constructive dialogue focused on what can be done to enhance and improve aquaculture in Washington while preventing similar incidents from occurring, state agencies and legislators have sought to play the blame game, suggesting that Cooke was at best negligent in the management and operation of the Site 2 structure and also accusing the company of being dishonest when responding to requests for information from State agencies. Other politically driven groups have disseminated false information concerning Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound, suggesting that these fish spread disease and pose a mortal threat to wild salmon. This false information has been used by Cooke’s opponents in the legislature and within state agencies to support a cancellation of leases and the enactment of HB 2957. It is an understatement to say that the political debate concerning the collapse of our Cypress Island facility has been politically charged. Indeed, the debate has been based in large measure upon fantasy and fiction as opposed to fact and science.
Cooke has learned much since the Cypress Island collapse. Central to the lessons learned is the deep, spiritual importance of wild salmon to the Pacific Northwest. We too are fish people; our aquaculture roots can be traced back to the transition to farming fish when Atlantic salmon stocks collapsed in Canada 30 years ago. We still value wild fish stocks and contribute to the recovery efforts of Atlantic salmon in Canada in partnership with First Nations, governmental agencies, and non-profits.
We have offered to do the same in Washington because of our belief in contributing to local communities. We have offered to partner with tribes in hatchery practices and management, including scholarship programs at the Northwest Indian College and free exchange of technical information with tribal hatchery operators. When we witnessed the inability of the Upper Skagit Tribe to capture sufficient brood stock for their Chum hatchery, we offered to explore the option of developing a captive brood stock program for that fishery. We heard about the importance of the Glenwood Springs Hatchery to the people of Orcas Island, commercial and sport fishers, and tribal members, and offered to provide support to ensure the continued operation of that facility. All these offers went without a response, which does not reflect a pragmatic approach to partnering in the restoration of wild salmon runs. We hope that over the coming months as the emotions settle on this issue, we can find space to have discussions with potential partners truly interested in making a positive change in Washington’s wild fisheries.
Cooke also proposed pragmatic amendments to HB 2957 to address the concerns of salmon farm opponents, only to have them summarily shot down one by one. We viewed the amendments as very reasonable compromises and we certainly offered more than any previous owners of these sites had.
As reflected in the international press coverage of Washington’s passage of HB 2957, Washington is not acting as a leader in sustainability or thoughtful environmental stewardship. Banning Atlantic salmon aquaculture will do nothing to bring wild salmon back. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has concluded that this escape—while certainly regrettable—is exactly like every other escape in the history of fish farming in Washington state. There are no impacts to wild fish. Although some environmental organizations tried to paint a picture of disease in the escaped fish, that picture was sharply rebuked by WDFW’s own scientists, and many world-renowned fishery scientists have stated that these fish are not colonizing Washington’s streams and are not competing with wild salmon.
Your governorship has been one built on sustainability and forward-thinking approaches to some of the prominent environmental challenges facing the world. I would submit to you that the biggest issue facing the world is one of food supply, and how we feed the world over the next few decades will determine the sustainability of our future. The oceans cannot feed the world with wild fish. Arable land is already under tremendous pressure. Fish farms are part of the solution, and if Washington is to be a leader in shaping world food supply policy, it needs strong leaders to make informed decisions about policies in Washington State first. You still have time to be such a leader, and quite frankly, not vetoing HB 2957 will undermine your scientific credibility worldwide on scientifically complex issues like climate change.
Finally, I would note that Canada and the United States are valued trade partners and close friends in the global economy. Washington has experienced farmed fish escapes much greater in magnitude with no contemplation of a ban on such facilities when those farms were owned by domestic companies. Washington is certainly going through an era of unprecedented urban growth, but based on my time in your beautiful state, I believe that your rural areas and your rural economies are equally important to Washington’s long term economic prosperity. With that in mind, I hope you consider the chilling effect the treatment of our company will have on incentivizing outside investment.
In closing, I would like to invite you to visit our farms in Maine or in Canada. I would like you to meet the many employees of my company who take great pride in farming the sea. I would like to show you the small coastal communities where we have built deep ties and are good community partners. I would like to discuss with you my vision for investment in sustainable world class aquaculture in Washington. And, I would like you to at least give me the time to personally show the people of Washington that Cooke can be a good citizen that understands and treasures clean water, healthy fisheries, and the wild nature of the areas within which we farm.
It is for all these reasons and more that we are seeking your support to veto HB 2957. Please do not hesitate to reach out directly to me and thank you for your consideration.
Very truly yours,