Washington State’s Commercial Net Pen Ban “Has No Legal Effect,” Court Says; Commissioner’s Order Ruled as “An Internal Policy Directive” — Not a Ban


Olympia, Washington – During the October 20, 2023, Summary Judgment Hearing in the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe-Northwest Aquaculture Alliance’s (NWAA) complaint against the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Thurston County Superior Court Judge Indu Thomas ruled that DNR’s so-called “net pen ban” (Commissioner’s Order 202211) is nothing more than an internal directive to begin the rulemaking process regarding commercial net pens in state aquatic lands. This decision essentially declares that the “ban” on commercial net pens that Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz touted in her November 18 press conference has no legal effect in Washington.

In response, NWAA issued the following statement:

“Last Friday, October 20, we got confirmation from Thurston County Superior Court that fish farming in commercial net pens is not illegal in Washington, contrary to the inflammatory public statements made by the Commissioner of Public Lands during her November 18, 2022, press conference, where she announced that ‘Washington’s public aquatic lands will no longer be home to commercial finfish net pen aquaculture,’” said Jeanne McKnight, NWAA Executive Director.

“When NWAA intervened in the Jamestown S’Klallam complaint, we had hoped the Court would find that Commissioner Franz overstepped her authority in banning commercial net pens in state-owned aquatic lands. Instead, we got the next best thing: clarification that what looked to the entire aquaculture sector as a de-facto ban on commercial net pens in Washington is not a ban at all—just hyperbole on the part of a politically motivated agency head who is now running to be the next Washington governor,” McKnight said.

“While we are grateful for the clarification by the Court, the fact remains that the public statements by Commissioner Franz had a chilling effect on the entire aquaculture sector, caused by the climate of uncertainty from DNR’s public condemnation of one of the world’s most sustainable methods of food production.”

In joining the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s lawsuit against DNR, NWAA sought to resolve the uncertainty in Washington regarding marine aquaculture, said McKnight. “Now that we can confirm that marine fish farming is still legal in Washington state, we will continue to advocate for the development of responsible, sustainable aquaculture in the Pacific Region.” NWAA said it is grateful to the excellent representation by attorney Greg Hibbard of Northwest Resource Law PLLC, who worked alongside tribal attorney, Lauren Rasmussen, to “fight like hell for tribal rights to grow food by means of a robust aquaculture sector in this region.”

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