One of my frustrations in my retirement has been a difficulty in speaking out on issues that are of some concern to me. Being 92 has its limitations – but my friends assure me, it’s not limited my expertise.
But I’m speaking out today to express my strong opposition to aquaculture in the waters and connecting rivers of the Great Lakes – including the Au Sable River.
When I think of Michigan’s latest infatuation with aquaculture – be it in Grayling on the Au Sable River, or in the Great Lakes – I am reminded of a saying: Some people learn from their mistakes. Smart people learn from the mistakes of others.
There are many mistakes to learn from when it comes to using our public waters as the sewers for private companies raising and selling fish. All around the globe, fish farming in public waters has led to water pollution, spread of fish disease, and widespread opposition by those who have to live with the visual pollution and other consequences of fish farming.
We here in Michigan have labored for sixty years to make our lakes clean. We are leaders of all matters related to the Great Lakes. Half the population of Michigan gets its water from the Great Lakes, part of 30 million people in the basin who rely on the lakes for drinking water. Maintaining the cleanliness of this water should be the top priority for state and federal officials.
The phosphate emissions from the fish in one net pen operation is the equivalent of the phosphate emissions from a sewer plant for 10,000 people. This fish sewage will create filamentous algae, which will wash up on nearby beaches, rot and stink. If this is going to be a $1 billion industry, as advocates say, there will be about 100 net pen operations, filling virtually every bay of any size in Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes. Imagine one in Grand Traverse Bay, or in front of the Grand Hotel, or in the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix.
Already, the lakes are under pressure, with algae blooms from high phosphorous levels (the kind virtually guaranteed to grow with fish farming) creating toxins forcing closure of water intakes in cities including Cleveland and Toledo in recent years. Will Rogers once counseled wise men should drink upstream from the herd – but many of Michigan’s major cities would be downstream from this herd of fish.
Any mistakes in the Great Lakes are uncorrectable. People advocating for aquaculture talk about adaptive management – when they make a mistake, they will correct it. But in a huge area, you can’t make a correction.
And the impact of a mistake on a river like the Au Sable could easily damage the river, and its economic potential, for generations. The addition of more than 1,500 pounds of algae-creating phosphorous a year from the proposed Grayling fish farm will be devastating to the river’s ecosystem.
People have learned this the hard way in Norway and in Chile, where massive net penning operations have collapsed financially. As can easily be expected when you put that many animals into a confined area, the fish farms have introduced diseases into the natural population. Today, the natural Atlantic Salmon fishery in the North Atlantic is shrinking. It’s an ecological disaster.
These same patterns are seen in flow-through fish farms, such as the one being developed on the Au Sable. They all do the same thing – they make no pretense of treating the fecal and urine matter of a large number of animals. They discharge that matter into the public water – our drinking water, for many communities on the Great Lakes.
I know these issues well. I grew up in Bellaire, and guided anglers on the Chain O’ Lakes. I fished the “Holy Waters” with George Griffiths, and stayed at his beloved “Barbless Hook” on the banks of Au Sable.
I studied fish and their habitats – including an experiment where I looked into the impact of adding nutrients to six lakes. My conclusion: This was a big mistake. And I was part of a team that introduced salmon into the Great Lakes.
So it’s with a love of Michigan’s great waters, experience as a scientist and teacher and the understanding of the pressures facing regulators gained through a long career with the Department of Natural Resources that I speak today.
Michigan shouldn’t be inviting any industry into our state that says, “don’t make us treat our waste. Let us dump it into your fresh water.”
You wouldn’t put a pigpen in a rose garden. It’s just common sense.
Don’t put fish farms on our rivers or in our Great Lakes. It’s just common sense.