In a time when good things in public seem to be few and far between, it’s important to stop, take note, reset goals, and begin again. For an example, as of Monday, the State Department of Ecology made it illegal to discharge sewage from vessels into Puget Sound. No joke, it became illegal this week to dump actual human shit into the Puget Sound (although you can still discharge graywater from disheses, washing machines, and bathing). This is how out-of-phase our public policy is from the necessary realities, informed by basic science, of living on a finite body of water, in a finite ocean, on a finite planet.
In a similar fashion, last month our state Senate voted to phase out Atlantic Salmon net pen farming from the Puget Sound by 2025. If you haven’t been following the salacious public drama of the Atlantic salmon nets in Puget Sound, boy have you been missing out on environmental drama. This story has been heroically documented by Lynda V. Mapes at the Seattle Times. And, for what it’s worth, Lynda’s writing is the sole reason to read the Seattle Times.
The vote to phase out salmon farming in Puget Sound is the consequence of a net failure on August 21st of 2017, which coincided with the total solar eclipse across much of North America. The net failure spilled an estimated 260,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound waters of east Cyprus Island. Amazingly, Cooke Aquaculture blamed the net failure on the “exceptionally high tides” caused by the eclipse, which was a baseless and untethered statement, which exists in the same anti-information realm as chemtrails and homeopathy. Down the line, mundane net overweighting by “fouling communities”, aka encrustations of invertebrates and algae, would be attributed as the underlying mechanism for net failure. Cooke Aquaculture subsequently offered money for the Lummi Nation’s silence on a potential net pen ban. Salacious indeed.
You might ask, “Why is net pen farming an environmental hazard?” Net pen farming exports literal shit to the surrounding waters, which drives unhealthy microbial proliferation and the reduction of dissolved oxygen in the surrounding environment (because of microbial respiration). What’s more, net pens are vectors of diseases and gross problematic parasites like sea lice. Net pen farming also exports marine debris to the surrounding environment, killing marine mammals, seabirds, and fish in this all-to-common ghost net detritus. And, if that isn’t bad enough, no net works perfectly all the time, which means there is a slow (or catastrophically punctuated) drip of Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea. Once released, these fish are now invasive species that compete with and infect threatened native Chinook Salmon.
Salmon are extensions of the living evolutionary and geologic history of river and ocean systems. They represent the living connection between the oceanic center of the North Pacific Gyre and the braided flood plain channels of our wild, cold, Eagle studded rivers. And, they are the lifeblood of First Nation’s people, culture, and connection to the land. They aren’t just fish. They are our world, our humanity, our future, and our past.
It is good news that net pen farming will be phased out of Puget Sound. It is good news that boaters in Puget Sound will no longer be allowed to dump literal shit into our waters. It is good news that people will march in the street on Saturday for science.
Maybe these recent successes can help galvanize our love of these places, and the useful framework of science-supported decision making. What would it be like if we viewed Puget Sound not as a bonanza playground of resource extraction and transportation, but as a piece of our collective identity and culture. What if we viewed prioritizing the health of Puget Sound as non-negotiable, rather than as some middling artsy-fartsy pastime for granola-eating losers. I don’t know how to realize that future and I’m not sure we ever will. But I want to live in that world and I definitely want the children of western Washington to know that they live in a land of silver and black ghosts. Of Orca Whales and Devil’s Club and Chinook and Salmon Berries. It is their birthright.