Tag: Au Sable River

Small Group Wins Big Victory on the AuSable River, Urges Nov. 6 Vote for Water

The Anglers of the Au Sable in late September reached a successful legal settlement with the Harrietta Hills Fish Farm in Grayling that by January 1 will permanently close the commercial fish farm. Harrietta Hills will vacate the premises, and the Anglers will assume the lease with Crawford County and take over the facility. Plans are to return the hatchery to its former status as a tourist attraction, and to upgrade its educational and recreational offerings.

This victory was a long time in coming, but it was worth it. Six years ago, we learned that an industrial scale aquaculture facility was planned for the old, obsolete state fish hatchery in Grayling. It was located on the East Branch of the Au Sable River, just upstream from the fabled “Holy Waters,” the premier trout fishing destination east of the Mississippi. Production was slated to increase from under 20,000 pounds of fish per year to over 300,000 pounds per year. This would increase pollution in the form of phosphorous and suspended solids (feces and uneaten fish food), according to our expert studies. As a result, algae growth would increase, dissolved oxygen would decrease, and the aquatic insects on which trout feed would be diminished. There would be an increased risk of fish diseases, including whirling disease, which is deadly to trout. The fishery and related tourism would decline.

The Snyder Administration bent over backwards to facilitate this absurd project. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources waived statutory and deed restrictions limiting use of the facility to historical and recreational purposes. (A court later ruled this action was illegal, but that the Anglers did not have standing to raise the claim.) The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued a pollution discharge permit based on faulty data (or by ignoring data altogether), which was woefully insufficient to protect the river. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development pushed hard to permit this project, notwithstanding the illegalities and environmental threats involved. The Michigan Farm Bureau, the Michigan Aquaculture Association, the MSU Extension Service, and the Sea Grant Institute at the University of Michigan all supported the project in spite of the facts.

This was the biggest threat to water quality and the fishery of the Au Sable River in the 30-plus years of the Anglers’ existence. So the group mobilized its membership, formed a team, and got to work. Environmental attorneys were retained. Expert witnesses were hired in environmental engineering, aquaculture, fish biology, and resource economics. A volunteer team was formed involving specialists in communications, finance, fundraising, and coalition building. The word got out, the membership got involved, and large donors began to emerge.

The Anglers used a two-pronged legal attack. First, the group appealed the pollution discharge permit was internally within the MDEQ. An 18-day administrative hearing was held. As expected, the initial ruling by the MDEQ Director was in favor of the fish farm, so the Anglers filed an appeal. In addition, the Anglers filed an independent lawsuit in Crawford County Circuit Court, alleging breach of the statutory and deed restrictions, and also claiming violations of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. After some initial skirmishes, the case was submitted to facilitative mediation where it was settled.

Two lessons can be taken from this near-debacle. First, it is possible for the conservation and environmental communities to take on industry and big government and win. But it takes time, determination, and money. Good will, strongly held convictions, and perseverance are necessary but not sufficient. It shouldn’t have to be that way, but that leads to the second lesson.

Politics matters. So, elections matter. As long as voters fail to make concerns about our environment a priority, we are doomed to continue making the same mistakes. The governmental officials charged with protecting our environment and natural resources should have blocked this entire project, but they did not. Corporate interests and the almighty dollar prevailed until organized citizens rose up to enforce the law when the state would not.

In the end, that is why efforts to educate the public about our resources, especially water, are so important. It is not immediately apparent to the public that a fish farm will pollute a river, or that an oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac threatens the Great Lakes, or that our groundwater is in danger of overuse, exploitation, and pollution. A broad, deep, and sustained process is needed to raise the consciousness of people to the point that water becomes an issue of such importance that they will consider it in casting their vote.

This work is being done by groups like the Anglers, FLOW, and others to educate and empower the public to uphold their public trust rights and the law. On November 6, it’s time for Michigan’s educated electorate to choose leadership that will protect our water, and with it, our heritage and future prosperity. 


Tom Baird, who serves on FLOW’s board of directors, is past president of the Anglers of the Au Sable and chair of the group’s legal and governmental relations committees. Reach him at tbairdo@aol.com.

 

Read about FLOW’s aquaculture efforts here.


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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