Tag: aquaculture

Restoring Respect for the Public Trust

byzantine-empire-public-land.-trusts

FLOW’s organizing principle is the public trust doctrine.  What sounds like an exotic concept is quite simple.  This 1500-year old principle of common law holds that there are some resources, like water and submerged lands, that by their nature cannot be privately owned.  Rather, this commons – like the Great Lakes — belongs to the public.  And governments, like the State of Michigan, have a responsibility to protect public uses of these resources.

In the coming year, we will explicitly address public trust concerns on what we’re calling Public Trust Tuesday.  Today, we begin with a roundup of critical public trust issues in Michigan in 2018.

Let’s look on the bright side, rather than dwelling on past failures. In the coming year, state officials and legislators have several opportunities to full their responsibilities as trustees of public trust resources:


Line 5:  The twin pipelines crossing the Straits of Mackinac underwater are there only because, in 1954, the state granted the company now called Enbridge the privilege.  State government never relinquished its ownership, on behalf of the public, of these waters and submerged lands. 

In 2017, a stream of disclosures about negligence, poor pipeline stewardship, and concealment of critical information by Enbridge dramatized the risk to the public interest posed by Line 5.  The Attorney General and Governor have the opportunity to eliminate this risk by revoking the Enbridge easement and phasing out or shutting down Line 5.


Nestle: The multinational corporate giant in 2016 asked the state DEQ for an increase in its already excessive pumping of groundwater for bottling and sale.  This despite evidence that Nestle’s existing withdrawal is lowering the water levels of streams fed by this groundwater, and harming fish and fishing.  The DEQ has an opportunity to protect the public trust by denying Nestle’s permit request.


Aquaculture:  Proponents are seeking a state law authorizing the installation of factory fish farms in Great Lakes waters.  These operations, which generate large amount of fish feces and could undermine the genetics of public fisheries, do not belong in public waters.  Further, the private occupancy of public waters by fish farms and other structures is wholly inconsistent with the public trust doctrine. The Legislature has the opportunity to protect the public trust by rejecting the legislation.


These are only some of the public trust concerns at stake in Michigan and the Great Lakes this year.  FLOW will work to restore awareness of and respect for the public trust doctrine among Michigan officials, and help the public bring pressure on them to fulfill their responsibilities.


Fish Farms or Holy Waters?


Almost everyone agrees: the old state fish hatchery on the Au Sable River in Grayling is the worst place you could pick for a commercial fish farming operation. It is on the East Branch, just upstream from the famed Holy Waters, the heart of Michigan’s blue ribbon trout fishing industry, and the premier wild trout fishing destination east of the Mississippi. But due to a combination of factors, including politics, greed and governmental lawlessness at the state and local level, that’s exactly what is happening.

The state deeded the hatchery to Crawford County subject to a statute passed by the legislature and a deed which limited use of the property to public recreation and museum purposes, and which required the county to preserve the public’s right of ingress and egress for fishing. But in 2012, the Director of the Department of Natural Resources signed away the state’s right to enforce those restrictions. Crawford County leased the hatchery to the fish farm for 20 years for $1. The river is fenced off. In October of this year, a judge ruled that operation of the fish farm “clearly violates the statute and deed,” but the DNR has been sluggish at best in rectifying the situation.

The fish farm will pollute the river, so it needs a Clean Water Act pollution discharge permit, which was willingly granted by the Department of Environmental Quality with the urging of the Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bureau. It was justified on the basis that the operator would profit, 2-3 jobs would be created, and the hatchery would stay open as a tourist attraction in the summer (which could have been accomplished without degrading the river with a fish farm). Damage to the multi-million dollar sport fishing industry in the area, and the jobs it supports, was not even considered.

Photo credit: John Russell

At permit limits, the fish farm will discharge about 160,000 pounds of solids (fish feces and uneaten feed) and over 1,600 pounds of phosphorous into the river every year. It currently has no water treatment system, and none is planned, other than a low-tech “system” of  “quiescent zones” which might be implemented at an unknown time in the future. The pollution will cause algae to grow, and the solids will create sludge beds. These will harm aquatic insects which the fish eat, reduce dissolved oxygen which they need to breathe, and increase the risk of Whirling Disease, which can decimate a fishery if it reaches epidemic levels. Escaping fish could breed and dilute the wild trout gene pool. Technology exists to remedy the problem, but the operator says it is too expensive.

All of this violated the property transfer statute, the deed, state and federal clean water laws, the non-degradation rule, and regulatory standards for phosphorous and dissolved oxygen in cold-water streams. And it violates the public trust right of the people to have access to the river for fishing and other recreational pursuits. It appropriates public trust waters for private gain.

The case is in litigation. Attorney, experts and other costs have exceeded $400,000 so far, with a long way to go.

The state’s approval of this operation shows either a lack of understanding of its public trust responsibilities – or a willful disregard of them. It will once again be up to citizens to do what their state government is supposed to do – assure there is no impairment of public waters for private benefit.

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Tom Baird is a board member of FLOW and the past President of the Anglers of the Au Sable.

 


PR: Congressman Dan Kildee Introduces Legislation to Protect the Great Lakes, Michigan’s Sport Fishing Industry

Great Lakes advocates say that commercial net-pen fish farming, pictured above, does not belong in Michigan’s public waters.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Contact: Mitchell Rivard, 989-450-2534, Mitchell.Rivard@mail.house.gov

 

Congressman Dan Kildee Introduces Legislation to Protect the Great Lakes, Michigan’s Sport Fishing Industry

Kildee Seeks to Address For-Profit Fish Farming that Poses New Threats to Michigan’s Waterways, including the Au Sable River

 

FENTON – Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05), flanked by sports fishermen and conservationists at Red Fox Outfitters in Fenton, today announced that he has introduced new legislation in Congress to ban harmful aquaculture practices in both the Great Lakes and federally designated “Wild and Scenic Rivers,” which includes the Au Sable River. The new bills are part of Congressman Kildee’s continued efforts to protect the Great Lakes and Michigan’s rivers from pollution, disease and invasive species.

Aquaculture is the commercial raising of fish in ponds, rivers or lakes. If not done correctly, it has been shown to increase pollution, destroy sensitive fish habitats, spread disease and introduce non-native species. Sadly, other states have seen polluted waterways that have crippled local economies as a result of bad aquaculture practices. A commercial fish farm facility in Pennsylvania on Big Spring Creek – once a famous trout stream – collapsed the region’s fishing industry in the 1970s.

“Like many Michiganders, I have fond memories spending time up north on the lakes or fishing in the river with my family. For everyone in our state, our water is precious, and that’s why we have to always protect it from harm. Whether it is invasive species like Asian Carp, Canada’s plan to store nuclear waste on the shore of the Great Lakes or commercial fish farming, I will always fight to protect Michigan’s freshwater and the vital jobs that depend on it,” said Congressman Kildee.

Currently, a commercial aquaculture facility near Grayling has a state-issued permit, through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, to expand its fish farming operation by 15 times its current size. The expansion will pollute the “Holy Waters” of the Au Sable River, one of Michigan’s 16 rivers designated a “Wild and Scenic River” by the federal government based on its unique ecosystems and pristine scenery.

Congressman Kildee’s two bills include:

  • The Ban Aquaculture in the Great Lakes Act, which would ban aquaculture facilities in the Great Lakes, ending the current patchwork of state laws that attempt to regulate such commercial fishing.
  • The Preserving Fishing on Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which would ban aquaculture facilities on Wild and Scenic Rivers and its tributaries, such as the Au Sable River, unless such facilities are shown not to discharge pollutants into the river.

Banning aquaculture has support from a vast majority of Michiganders, as well as lawmakers and conservation groups. According to a recent poll, 68 percent of Michiganders oppose aquaculture in the Great Lakes. Additionally, this issue is not a partisan one; Republicans in the Michigan Legislature have previously introduced legislation to ban aquaculture in the Great Lakes and in Michigan waterways.

Congressman Kildee’s legislation also has support from the Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan Trout Unlimited, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Michigan Salmon and Steelhead Association and For the Love of Water (FLOW).

“Anglers of the Au Sable applauds Congressman Kildee for addressing an overlooked Great Lakes water issue, the introduction of pollutants by fish farms into the Lakes and connecting waterways,” said Tom Baird, president of the organization that focuses on improving fishing on the Au Sable River. “It is vital that fish farms be operated in a way that protects the cleanliness of our rivers and lakes, which are in a delicate balance easily tipped by addition of wastes from aquaculture done improperly. Flow through systems that use rivers as virtually open sewers are of particular concern to those of us who fish for trout, which need clean, cold water to thrive. This legislation would ensure only properly regulated fish farms which don’t pollute are allowed on designated rivers.”

“The Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association is one of the largest sport fishing organizations in the Great Lakes Basin. Our mission is to protect, promote and enhance sport fishing in the Great Lakes and connecting water ways. We are proud to support legislation to prohibit aquaculture in the Great Lakes and to prohibit aquaculture operations that contribute to pollution of wild and scenic rivers,” said Dennis Eade, Executive Director of the Michigan Steelhead & Salmon Fishermen’s Association.

“We appreciate Congressman Kildee’s leadership on this very important sportsmen’s issue.  Aquaculture facilities across the globe that are connected to public water bodies have proven to be disastrous for water quality and fish health. Our $4 billion fishery in Michigan drives local economies, creates jobs, and connects millions of Michigan citizens to our long and storied heritage as the premier fishing destination in North America,” said Michigan United Conservation Club.

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The Great Lakes are no place for fish farming, but there might be one nearby

The waters of the Great Lakes are held in trust by the state as a shared public commons for the benefit of citizens for navigation, boating, fishing, health and sustenance. The courts of all eight Great Lakes states have recognized this principle, which means the states must manage these waters as a trustee for the benefit of all citizens to prevent interference with these public purposes – a duty of stewardship.

Net-pen fish-farming in the Great Lakes poses a major interference with existing protected riparian and public uses of these hallowed waters – landowners, fishermen, boaters, tourists, and citizens. Private fish farming would displace and interfere with the public trust in these waters.

 

Click here to read Jim Olson’s full guest commentary on bridgemi.com!

 

Opinion on Aquaculture by Bill Schuette, Attorney General

Great Lakes advocates say that commercial net-pen fish farming, pictured above, does not belong in Michigan’s public waters.
Since our A.G. has emphasized the importance of public trust in the Great Lakes and navigable lakes and streams, including Great Lakes, we’ve analyzed the doctrine, applied it to fish farming in Great Lakes, and the answer is: it cannot be authorized under the public trust doctrine, not even by legislative amendment to expand the definition of aquaculture as implied by the A.G.’s opinion.

 

Read the recent Attorney General opinion on Aquaculture in the Great Lakes: Click here! 

Read More about Aquaculture in FLOW’s recent Aquaculture issue brief! 

(Also available in Flipbook form)

 

Michigan’s Growing Threat: Fish Farming in the Great Lakes & Tributaries

Great Lakes advocates say that commercial net-pen fish farming, pictured above, does not belong in Michigan’s public waters.

Great Lakes advocates say that commercial net-pen fish farming, pictured above, does not belong in Michigan’s public waters. FLOW’s latest issue brief, available here, summarizes the public trust legal framework in Michigan that prohibits Great Lakes fish farming, outlines the significant economic and environmental risks that aquaculture poses, and recommends actions the public can take.


Michigan sits at the center
of a debate over whether to open its Great Lakes waters to commercial aquaculture or fish farming. The practice involves packing thousands of fish into near-shore cages or mesh net-pens that rise above the surface, are anchored to the bottom, and accessed via pier or boat. The fish are fattened with food pellets and buoyed by antibiotics, and discharge tons of untreated waste rich in nitrogen and algae-producing phosphorous into public waters.

Great Lakes advocates, including environmental and anglers groups, tribes, scientists, legal experts, a trio of state agencies, and lawmakers in both major parties, say that net-pen aquaculture in the Great Lakes is not legally authorized and is too risky for the environment, native species, and the multibillion-dollar sport fishing economy.

This FLOW Issue Brief summarizes the public trust legal framework in Michigan that prohibits Great Lakes fish farming, outlines the significant economic and environmental risks that aquaculture poses, points to the promise of closed-loop aquaculture operations not connected to public waters, and recommends actions the public can take.


(Click to access PDF of the issue brief)

There is No Legal Authority for Commercial Fish Farming in Great Lakes Waters

The Great Lakes are not and cannot be a “gold mine” for any private person or corporation. They are owned by the State in public trust for each citizen. The Supreme Courts of Michigan, the U.S. and other states have ruled for more than 120 years that public trust bottomlands and waters cannot be transferred or occupied or subordinated for primarily private gain. Not the DEQ, not private interests, not the Governor, not the legislature, not even the courts can violate this principle. Moreover, given the environmental effects and the fact that feasible and prudent on-land alternatives exist, fish farming the Great Lakes would violate basic environmental law standards. So it’s time for the fish farming industry to stop promising “gold mines” for the Great Lakes.  They are not legal, they cannot be approved.  Land is for farms, the Great Lakes are for navigation, fishing, swimming, drinking water, sustenance, and recreation, aquatic life, and our own quality of life. There is no authority for private development of aquaculture CAFOs or any water farms in the Great Lakes, so the debate over environmental impacts is a waste of time. Moreover, because there are on-land alternatives, they must be done or shown to be totally unfeasible and not prudent. If anything, on-land fish farming is feasible and prudent.

Public Comments to MI DNR, DEQ, and DARD on Aquaculture in the Great Lakes and Tributaries of Michigan

Aquaculture –often in the form of networks of enclosed pens that exclusively occupy a large area of surface water and underlying bottomlands—raises substantial legal, environmental, aquatic resource, and water use impact issues. Specifically, the use of public waters and bottomlands for the occupancy and operation of concentrated fish production raises a number of grave concerns, including: (1) exclusion of public access and other uses, (2) likely impacts from wastes and nutrient loading, (3) escaped fish pumped with antibiotics, and (4) interference with rights of boating, fishing, swimming, and other forms of paramount public uses that are protected by the public trust doctrine.

By definition concentrated aquaculture or fish farms that occupy surface and deeper water areas and occupy or are anchored or supported by bottomlands of the Great Lakes are subject to the common law public trust doctrine. Accordingly, any decision involving enclosed, pen concentrated fish-farming operations must be framed through the standards set forth under the public trust doctrine. This comment outlines the public trust framework critical to any state decision involving aquaculture in the Great Lakes and connected navigable waterways. Read the full comments here.