Skip to content

Canadian company threatens NAFTA investor-state challenge over Washington state legislation against fish farms

A tweet by Saint John, New Brunswick-based Joel Richardson, Vice-President Public Relations, Cooke Aquaculture.

Washington is moving to ban fish farms in state waters, but the North American Free Trade Agreement could stand in its way.

The Canadian Press reports, “The Washington state senate and house of representatives have recently passed bills that would phase out net-pen farms when their leases come up for renewal over the next seven years. Each bill passed with about a two-thirds majority. Now the senate and the house are considering each other’s proposed laws. The bills are expected to pass into law when approved by both the house and the senate. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s deputy communications director Tara Lee said in an email that he supports the phase out of net pens for non-native fish.”

The Georgia Straight notes, “Earlier in January this year, Washington state imposed a $332,000 fine on Cooke Aquaculture Pacific for the catastrophic collapse of its fish farm near Cypress Island last summer, resulting in the escape of a large number of Atlantic salmon.” Washington state says 250,000 Atlantic salmon escaped the fish farm, while the company claims it was 160,000 fish that escaped.

The Canadian Press article notably highlights, “A state review of the farm found the net failed because it was weighed down by 100 tonnes of mussels and debris, due to insufficient maintenance.”

KUOW now reports, “Cooke Aquaculture says it will pursue mandatory arbitration under NAFTA if the Washington legislature tries to phase out Atlantic salmon farming. …Company vice president Joel Richardson [says] the company will seek to recover the $76 million it has invested in its fish farms in Washington, as well as costs and lost profits.”

The Council of Canadians supports a ban on all fish farms, calls on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to drop his insistence of keeping the controversial Chapter 11 investor-state dispute settlement provision in NAFTA, and furthermore calls on his government to stop fish farms off the coast of British Columbia.

The Canadian Press explains, “The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is responsible for the tenure renewal process in B.C., while the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for aquaculture licensing.” APTN has reported Ian Roberts, a spokesperson for Marine Harvest, says that the provincial licence for Marine Harvest’s Port Elizabeth fish farm is up for renewal in June, but that their federal licence won’t expire until 2022. Alexandra Morton has highlighted that Marine Harvest restocked their Port Elizabeth farm late last year even though their tenure there will expire one year before the fish are ready to harvest.

Marine Harvest is a Norwegian-owned transnational corporation.

While Norway is not a part of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), it is a signatory to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) agreement with Canada. As we noted in this June 2017 campaign blog, the EFTA doesn’t currently have an investor-state dispute settlement provision, but the Trudeau government has been pushing for it to have one. Earlier this month, The Hill Times reported, “The EFTA trade agreement should be revisited and should include more than just trading goods, says [Iceland’s new ambassador to Canada] Pétur Ásgeirsson.”