Jury awards $595,000 to Lummi Tribe over salmon enclosure collapse

SEATTLE, AP — A Washington state jury on Wednesday awarded the Lummi Indian Tribe $595,000 for the 2017 collapse of a net pen where Atlantic salmon were farmed — an event that has raised fears of harm to wild salmon and prompted the legislature to ban the farming of non-native fish.

Around 250,000 Atlantic salmon escaped into the Salish Sea when the net enclosure owned by Cooke Aquaculture – an anchored and floating enclosure off Cypress Island – collapsed. The northwest Washington tribe quickly mobilized to catch the fish, and Cooke paid a bounty of $30 each for the more than 43,000 recovered by the tribe’s fishermen, or $1.3 million in everything.

The Lummi Nation filed a lawsuit in 2020, claiming that while the fishermen themselves were compensated for their efforts, the company failed to reimburse the tribal government for responding to the spill, including organizing fishers. fishermen and tracking the Atlantic salmon they had brought.

In addition, the tribe sought damages for what it described as the “existential threat” the collapse posed to its culture.

The King County Superior Court jury on Wednesday declined to award damages for that cultural injury claim, but awarded the tribe $595,000 for its negligence and unjust enrichment claims against Cooke , the tribe’s lawyers said.

Lummi’s staff attorney, James Stroud, said in an email that the tribe was pleased the jury had found the tribe should be compensated for “cleaning up Cooke’s mess.”

“While we regret having to litigate this matter, the Lummi Nation remains committed to improving the health of the waters of the Salish Sea,” Stroud wrote.

A spokesperson for Cooke Aquaculture, which its website says has more than 10,000 employees in nine countries, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The Washington Department of Ecology fined the company $332,000 for the collapse, which it blamed on negligence, including poor maintenance of the nets. Cooke also agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a Clean Water Act lawsuit brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy. That money was directed to environmental projects to benefit salmon and killer whales in Puget Sound, as well as the group’s legal fees.

At the time of the collapse, Cooke was planning to upgrade the net enclosures.

Cooke argued that there was no evidence that any of the escaped Atlantic salmon survived after April 2018. Indeed, the company’s attorneys noted, even when humans have attempted to establish populations of Atlantic salmon along the west coast, these efforts have failed.

“Atlantic salmon do not survive here and compete or breed with wild salmon,” they wrote in an essay memoir. “The plaintiff himself attempted – and failed – to farm Atlantic salmon in Washington waters in the 1970s.”

Since the legislature banned the farming of non-native Atlantic salmon in the state’s marine waters in 2018, Cooke has been farming native rainbow trout instead. In January, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld Cooke’s clearances.