Fish-farming company offered money for Lummi Nation’s silence about net pens, letters show

Cooke Aquaculture offered the Lummi Nation a premium price for the fish it caught that had escaped from Cooke pens, in exchange for keeping silent about a ban on net pen Atlantic salmon farms in Washington. The tribe called the offer “insulting.”

Cooke Aquaculture offered to pay a premium price for Atlantic salmon caught by the Lummi Nation after a major spill from the company’s Cypress Island fish farm if the tribe would not advocate getting rid of net pen aquaculture.

The tribe tartly rejected the offer. “Your demand to keep quiet for a few extra dollars is insulting,” Timothy Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, responded in a Sept. 14 letter.

Nell Halse, vice president for communications for Cooke, said Wednesday the offer “was not an attempt to muzzle or insult the Lummi Nation, but rather an effort to negotiate toward common ground and respect the interests and concerns of both parties at the table …”

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One of the company’s three fish farms at Cypress Island in the San Juans collapsed the weekend of Aug. 20, releasing an estimated 105,000 fish into the water just as native Pacific salmon were returning to their spawning ground. Lummi fishermen recovered the lion’s share of the fish on the loose after the tribe launched an emergency fishery.

Going on behind the scenes ever since have been negotiations by the company with tribal and nontribal fishers and firms involved in the cleanup effort.

Lummi told Cooke in a Sept. 11 letter that the company’s initial offer of $30 per fish doesn’t begin to cover the tribe’s cost for staff, paying its fishermen and related expenses. The company agreed to pay more — but there were strings attached, letters between Cooke and the tribe show.

Glenn Cooke, company co-founder and CEO, proposed in a Sept. 13 letter to Ballew paying $42 per fish, instead of $30, “ … subject to agreement between the parties that neither…

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