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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Court settlement to end commercial fish farm on trout-rich Au Sable River

A northern Michigan fly fishing group announced a settlement Thursday of a four-year legal battle that will remove a commercial fish farm from the trout-flush waters of the Au Sable River. 

The $160,000 settlement, announced by the 1,200-member Anglers of the Au Sable, pitted fly fishing and environmental groups against a commercial fish farm that critics said posed a danger to the legendary trout stream. 

A press release from the Anglers group said that as part of the agreement, a controversial permit for the farm issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would be withdrawn and commercial fish farming by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm would end on the river by the end of this year. 

Anglers of the Au Sable said it has agreed to convert the fish farm into a nonprofit tourist attraction and historical landmark.  

The Anglers group promised to pay Harrietta Hills $160,000 and is to have transferred to it the $1-a-year lease from Crawford County that had been used by the farm. A county board approved the transfer Thursday morning to clear the way for the legal settlement. 

(Disclosure: John Bebow, CEO of The Center for Michigan, of which Bridge is a part, is vice president of Anglers of the Au Sable.) 

The dispute received national attention and, according to the fly fishing group, also inspired state legislation to regulate aquaculture in Michigan and the Great Lakes. Critics of the fish farm complained of the discharge of waste from the commercial trout farm. 

The Henrietta fish operation is located at the site of the Grayling Fish Hatchery, on the East Branch of the Au Sable River. 

"We believe that the Grayling Fish Hatchery is an important historical landmark, not a commercial fish farm operation,” Anglers President Joe Hemming said in a statement. “This was the intent of the 1995 deed between Crawford County and the State of Michigan when the state decided to cease operations there in the 1960s. We intend to honor the deed and the wishes of Crawford County and to make the facility both safe for the river and worthwhile to the community.” 

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