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Excerpted From: Ashleigh Dougill, Fishing for Solutions: Pacific Northwest Atlantic Salmon Fish Farming in the Wake of the Cooke Aquaculture Net-pen Collapse, 21 Oregon Review of International Law 259 (2020) (Student Comment) (198 Footnotes) (Full Document)

AshleighDougillOn August 19, 2017, a net-pen fish farm belonging to international fishing company Cooke Aquaculture collapsed. The collapse released as many as 263,000 non-native Atlantic salmon into the Puget Sound, which significantly affected the surrounding environment and beyond. In the months that followed, the state of Washington and the province of British Columbia (B.C.)--the two most directly affected regions in the Pacific Northwest--responded both legally and politically.

Although the collapse had similar ecological and environmental impacts on Washington and B.C., each region's differing legal responses directly affected its ability to mitigate future fish spills. Both regions' aquaculture statutes and administrative frameworks reflect dissimilar levels of discretion and authority held by governing bodies, as well as different bodies of law for handling future collapses. B.C.'s broad regulations and lack of governmental oversight of net-pen aquaculture contrasts with Washington's specific regulations and governmental oversight of the industry. Ultimately, Washington State banned net-pen farming following the Cooke spill, while net-pen aquaculture is still legal in B.C. While B.C.'s leniency likely precludes any future ban on net-pen farming, the province can hold aquatic farmers accountable using legal activism involving First Nations and aboriginal fishing rights within treaties.

Part I of this Article contextualizes the presence of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Northwest through a summary of the significant geography, background, and history of the region.

Part II considers the impact of Atlantic salmon on the economies, ecologies, and First Nations of each region, then establishes the framework in which fish-farm laws developed.

Part III describes and compares the fish-farm aquaculture laws in each region, then assesses their strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, Part IV discusses Washington and B.C.'s different responses to the collapse and how those responses may achieve positive change.

[. . .]

Atlantic salmon net-pen aquaculture is an integral, yet controversial, part of the Pacific Northwest. Although Atlantic salmon fishing brings jobs and economic prosperity to the region, the practice also raises serious environmental concerns and First Nations' rights issues. B.C.'s vague legal language and lack of government regulation for aquaculture contrasts with Washington's regulations and requirements for the industry. These differing legal frameworks produced different results: a net-pen ban in Washington, while B.C.'s aquaculture laws remained initially unchanged. Each region uses different legal bodies to protect Pacific salmon populations. While Washington uses invasive and endangered species lists, B.C. relies on existing First Nations aboriginal and treaty fishing rights. Although B.C.'s aquaculture legal system would make an outright ban on fish farming difficult, the province can potentially hold fish farmers accountable for future spills through those strong laws concerning First Nations.

Ashleigh Dougill is a J.D. candidate at the University of Oregon School of Law, anticipated to graduate in May 2020.

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