Covington, WA—In a new campaign, Washington fish farming workers, who have grown affordable, high-quality fish in Puget Sound for over 40 years, are speaking out for the first time to expose the pain they and their families have endured as the result of DNR Commissioner Hilary Franz’s unilateral and unscientific decision to ban fish farming in state waters.
“Franz’s blatantly political action last November not only forced fish farmers out of work, but also ended the availability of affordable, nutritious, sustainable, and locally farmed fish for Washington consumers,” said Jeanne McKnight, Executive Director of the Northwest Aquaculture Alliance (NWAA), the organization behind the campaign. In its new www.stophilaryfranz.com grass-roots advocacy campaign, NWAA appeals to Washington citizens, asking them to send a letter to state legislators requesting an examination of Franz’s actions. Click here to watch and share the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLkxXMW3KtM
“This unscientific ban on commercial net pens shows that Hilary Franz is playing politics with your dinner plate—at the expense of hard-working, dedicated people who have made the production of nutritious seafood their life-long career,” McKnight said. “It’s outrageous that Franz ignored multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies proving the ecological safety of farming fish and completely disregarded a unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming the legality of farming native steelhead in our state waters. We are outraged that she completely ignored the multi-year comprehensive study, conducted right here in Puget Sound, that gave rise to the recent biological opinion from NOAA showing no significant adverse impacts on endangered species by fish farms operating in the state. Hilary Franz needs to act like a true leader and explain to our farmers who lost their livelihoods, just what science she used to make this harmful decision. She refuses to do that,” McKnight said.
“As the video reveals, Washington fish farm workers first learned about the Franz decision from a news story. This is unconscionable. This is NOT the kind of transparent leadership we should expect from our elected public servants.” McKnight said. She added, “We applaud these dedicated farm workers for making a public appeal, and on their behalf, we are pleading with Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington state Legislature to take a closer look at the devastating consequences of the Franz decision by hearing directly from the farmers who lost their livelihoods with no warning. It is important to question whether this unilateral decision runs counter to the letter and spirit of Washington law.”
In 1985, the legislature passed SB 3067, the “Aquatic Farming Act,” which declares that “aquatic farming provides a consistent source of quality food, offers opportunities of new jobs, increased farm income stability, and improves balance of trade.” The Act also declares, “It is therefore the policy of this state to encourage the development and expansion of aquaculture within this state.” This legislation is still Washington law, although it was modified by the passage of HB 2957 in 2018, calling for the end of farming of non-native species in state waters, but legalizing the farming of native species in state waters. The farmers who lost their jobs because of Franz’s actions were successfully farming native steelhead.
NWAA believes the Franz decision to ban fish farming in commercial net pens represents egregious government over-reach on the part of a politically ambitious agency head, and in its campaign, NWAA urges the legislature to take back its definitive authority to establish state policy around this critically important issue.
Farmers across the state consider it shameful that Commissioner Franz, flanked at a celebratory press conference by well-known anti-aquaculture and anti-commercial fishing activists, would gloat over destroying an important food production sector and killing the jobs of Washington farmers just one week before Thanksgiving last Fall. It’s clear that Hilary Franz was trying to score political points with activist groups, but without the courtesy of first notifying the employees whose jobs she killed. She refused to meet with the employees who attended her press conference and had asked to speak with her. Instead, she sent a political fundraising appeal within hours, bragging about what she had just done. This is not the type of leadership we expect from Franz or other Washington elected officials, especially at a time when food prices are at an all-time high and good jobs are scarce in rural communities.
After the last farmed steelhead was harvested in Puget Sound last month, a USDA-funded study revealed the Seattle-Tacoma market has the highest per capita consumption of farmed steelhead of any other metropolitan region in the country. With local fish farmers banned from producing such in-demand fish, Commissioner Franz’s actions will lead to higher prices and less availability of fresh, local, sustainably farmed, affordable fish.