State approves controversial plan for Cooke Aquaculture steelhead farm

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The state's fish and wildlife office approved an application for a controversial fish farm slated to operate in the Puget Sound.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife approved Cooke Aquaculture's application for a steelhead fish farm near Rich Passage in Skagit Bay, the agency announced Tuesday.

The five-year permit would apply to net pens currently operated by Cooke and may later extend to three other pens, according to WDFW.

The steelhead raised in the pens will be mostly sterile and all-female, WDFW said.

Cooke Aquaculture came under fire after one of its floating pens collapsed in 2017, releasing a quarter-million non-native Atlantic salmon into the Puget Sound. The company paid a $332,000 fine in August for the failure.

WDFW said Cooke submitted the application in an effort to transition out of farming non-native fish species.

Wild Fish Conservancy said the decision to approve the net pens came "in spite" of public comment and different groups opposing the move.