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Win for Lummi Nation in Fight Against Cooke Aquaculture

November 21, 2022

On June 21st, the jury in Lummi Nation v. Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, LLC awarded $595,000 to the Lummi Nation for harms the tribe suffered when a net pen holding farmed Atlantic salmon collapsed in 2017.

Cooke Aquaculture’s Negligence Releases Non-Native Fish

In August 2017, a floating net pen holding 305,000 Atlantic salmon collapsed off the east coast of Cypress Island. When the pen collapsed, the non-native fish escaped into the Salish Sea. The pen was owned by Cooke Aquaculture, the largest privately owned salmon-farming company in the world. Cooke Aquaculture initially denied responsibility for the collapse, blaming the disaster on high tides caused by an eclipse. The release of Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea, the Lummi Nation’s fishing grounds, threatened native Pacific salmon, the local ecosystem, and the Lummi Nation’s way of life.

Cleaning up Cooke’s Negligence

The Lummi Nation acted as a government to clean up Cooke’s mess. The Lummi Nation’s fishers recovered more of Cooke’s spilled Atlantic salmon than anyone else. The jury found that Cooke failed to fully compensate the government of the Lummi Nation for its time and effort spent mobilizing the tribal fishing fleet and monitoring the impacts of the spill.

A 2018 investigation by the Washington Department of Ecology found that Cooke Aquaculture had in fact been negligent in its maintenance of the net pen, which led to the salmons’ escape. Hilary Franz, Washington state commissioner of public lands, stated that “the collapse was not the result of natural causes…Cooke’s disregard caused this disaster and recklessly put our state’s aquatic ecosystem at risk.”

In 2018, Washington State passed legislation that banned non-native net-pen farming by 2022. Cooke Aquaculture has since transitioned to farming native steelhead trout in its net-pens.

TMLG Fights on Behalf of Lummi Nation

In 2020, Terrell Marshall Law Group and the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt sued Cooke Aquaculture on behalf of the Lummi Nation. The firms argued that Cooke Aquaculture’s negligence led to unjust enrichment, and that the Lummi Nation suffered cultural harm from the incident. In June 2022, the jury awarded $595,000 to the Lummi Nation to compensate thefor the costs of its cleanup efforts.

The team at Terrell Marshall Law Group, led by Toby Marshall, Blythe Chandler, and Jen Boschen, was honored to work with the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt in representing the Lummi Nation in Lummi Nation v. Cooke Aquaculture Pacific, LLC.