The Thurston County Superior Court issued a ruling on May 12 dismissing the lawsuits Cooke filed against the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last December. According to the ruling signed by the Honorable Judge Indu Thomas, Cooke’s claims lack legal standing because the DNR complied with the terms of the leases. “Cooke’s claim would require imposition of new terms and obligations on DNR in contradiction to the express terms of the lease agreements”, the ruling states.
Sentence says Cooke not suffer an irreparable injury
When Cooke appealed the denial of its Washington trout farming lease licenses in December and subsequently filed another lawsuit “to keep employees safe”, the company sued both the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz. The ruling handed down last Friday notes, however, that neither the DNR, a state agency, nor Commissioner Franz, are “persons” subject to suit under the law.
Moreover, the judgment asserts that Cooke has not been deprived of a fundamental property or interest, which is a prerequisite for procedural and substantive due process claims. It also insists that the Canadian family company no longer has rights under the expired leases. “Also, Cooke not suffer an irreparable injury. Therefore, Cooke’s claim for permanent injunctive relief fails as a matter of law”, it says.
In the first week of the year, a court granted the company an injunction for the safe removal of fish and equipment from its Rich Passage and Hope Island steelhead hatcheries in Puget Sound. This delayed the DNR’s initial deadline from January 14 to April 14, 2023.
Cooke doing everything to lawfully remove the equipment
Now, in an emailed statement, Joel Richardson, Cooke Aquaculture’s Vice President of Public Relations, has told WeAreAquaculture that the last crop of steelhead trout was harvested at its Washington State farms months ago. However, Cooke Aquaculture Pacific has just received the marine farming equipment removal permit from the local municipality. It was last May 8 and the company is not allowed to begin the removal until May 22. “Cooke Aquaculture Pacific applied for all local county or municipal removal permits months ago and has continued to diligently pursue receipt of such permits”, Richardson says.
According to the statement, Cooke has been informing the DNR of the situation at every step of the permitting process. “Regardless, DNR tried to force us to put our workers at risk to meet artificially short and unnecessary deadlines to remove fish from our farms. This behavior by DNR is punitive and a violation of the duty of good faith and fair dealing”, continues Cooke Aquaculture’s Vice President of Public Relations.
He also points out that, in early April, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office confirmed to Cooke that DNR agrees the company must wait for local jurisdictions to complete the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) determination and give their final approvals before the equipment can be fully removed. “Without conceding that DNR’s lease renewal denials was proper, Cooke is doing everything it can to lawfully remove the equipment and has been following the Washington regulatory process every step of the way”, concludes Joel Richardson.