Fish farms threaten Great Lakes
LUDINGTON — The Lake Michigan waves are tossing us like popcorn. Although the waves — 3-to 5-feet high — exhilarate me, they terrify my companion. We move back to the bay, and it's all sunshine and peace.
The sweet inevitability of a screaming line and salmon rising for battle is the reason we're in Ludington. This promise also draws billions of dollars in business to the area.
Salmon are the unlikely miracle that occurred when biologist Howard Tanner thought out of the box to solve a stinking alewife problem. The invasive alewives reeked and plugged up waterways with their rotting flesh.
In the 1960s, Tanner brought in ocean-running chinook from the Pacific Northwest to eat the alewives. They thrived, and their arrival built business and fish tales. All anyone needed was a pole and a patch of shoreline to catch a "king," Today, that kingdom is under threat.
It has all been very hush-hush. Proposals to bring cage fishing culture to the Great Lakes are being considered by the state, and a panel comprised of plenty of pro-cage farming "experts" has been assembled to come up with recommendations.
Already the Department of Environmental Quality has approved a permit for a flow through a fish farm, which will put out hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish feces into the Au Sable River, a blue-ribbon trout stream providing thousands of jobs to the area.
Cages to house millions of fish in the open water are being endorsed by the generally neutral Michigan Sea Grant. Their parent organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, believes in developing sustainable aquaculture. They offer promises of a billion dollars in revenue, and a guilt trip few could ignore; the need to meet the food needs of the growing planet.
The problem is that it's all a bunch of lies. These proposed projects won't be feeding the world — they'll be feeding high-end Chicago restaurants rainbow trout that take more fish product to grow than they return.
"You have to feed and 6 million or 7 million pounds of food made out of fish to produce 3 million-4 million pounds of trout. Farming trout is not about sustainable development, and it won't help feed the world," said Bryan Burroughs, Trout Unlimited's executive director. "And sustainable aquaculture doesn't have to bring risk to existing fisheries."
Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, is introducing a bipartisan bill this week to stop all types of aquaculture that could potentially harm the great lakes.
"Concentrated fish poo is just not Pure Michigan," Jones said. "A typical 200,000-fish operation creates as much waste as a city of 65,000 people, which would make the Great Lakes a giant toilet bowl.
"The waste in a commercial fish farm would stay where Michigan families enjoy swimming, boating, fishing and paddling. Unlike ocean fish farms, where tides flush away the waste, it will stay in the coastal region of the Great Lakes."
Jones is not alone in his opposition.
"Every single environmental organization and every single sporting group we have spoken to is unanimously opposed," Burroughs said.
"There is a right way, a good way to raise fish. And it's not in an open system where fish and fish disease can escape. It's by using a closed system that won't ruin the rest of the fishery.
"If they really wanted to do this, to bring business to Michigan, they could do it. There is no shortage of inland ponds, pole barns and abandoned buildings for fish farmers to use, where they could destroy the waste properly. It would be a boon to the state, and we do not oppose it."
The problem is that less risk means more expense to set up the operation. Filtering water and removing waste are work. Fish farms would prefer to just dump them into public waterways without repercussions, and this is exactly what the cage culture permits would allow corporations to do.
"Regardless of how many safeguards are put in place, there is always some threat that will be unaccounted for, and one mistake here can threaten the entire Great Lakes economy," Jones said. "Asian Carp are just one horror story for the Great Lakes. They're a great example of the unintended consequences of aquaculture.
"These invasive fish were originally brought in to clean aquaculture and wastewater ponds. All it took was a flood and they established themselves as the greatest threat the Great Lakes has ever seen. We don't need to introduce these fish farms for something else to go wrong."
Jones said crowded fish cages are breeding grounds for disease that can spread to our wild fish population. In 2007, a virus wiped out 70% of the fish in Chile's huge salmon farming industry. Unlike Chile, Michigan has wild salmon.
"Imagine what could happen to our wild salmon population if such a virus was introduced into our waters. They'd be gone," Jones said.
Jones said that inevitably farm fish will escape. He is right. The Grayling Fish Hatchery already has had fish escape. After an angler noticed, the state investigated and the hatchery "self-reported" the event.
"They will escape," Jones said, "and when they do, they will destroy our Great Lakes fishery. British Columbia reports 400,000 fish escaping their nets and another 300,000 in Scotland. These fugitive fish compete with wild fish for food, disrupt their natural reproduction and interfere with their genetic diversity, ultimately making it very difficult for the wild fish to survive."
So who supports this? The defenders will surely come crawling out of the woodwork, appealing to the need to feed a starving world. They're just looking for a handout on the public dime. Don't believe a word of it.
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Outpost: Youth hunt brings friends together
The youth hunt is a time of envy for adults and magic for young hunters. This year, Abbey Obrzut of St. Clair and two of her friends got their dream hunt on state land.
"I had hunted for two years and taken no deer because I wanted my first deer to be a buck," she said. "I was very excited for this youth hunt and hoping my last year I would finally get one. I was going to try out a new spot on state land with my friend, Austin Crum, and my boyfriend, Cody Corey. It was all our last year hunting in the youth hunt."
On Opening Day, Austin took a sneaky eight-point that belly crawled to stay out of sight. Obrzut had a volleyball tournament that her coach wouldn't let her miss, so she missed the morning hunt.
"When I got home I thought I would go sit out in our blind and see what I might see, which is usually nothing," she said.
She went out with her dad to the site to make plans to hunt it the next day, munched on some Goldfish crackers and chatted. Suddenly she looked in the field and couldn't believe her eyes.
"I asked my dad if I can just shoot without a tripod, and he said sure," she said. "One shot and he was down. It was a nine-point, I couldn't believe it. I was so excited. My mom heard a shot and texted me to see if it was me, but I told her no because I wanted it to be a surprise."
Generously, she offered Corey her spot the next day. "We got up at 4:15 to get there. I have a 'nub antler' necklace from Stones N Bones and it's my lucky charm that I wore when I shot mine, so I gave it to him to wear for his hunt. "
The lucky charm landed Corey a massive 12-point. "I was a little jealous I must say because I don't think I will ever see a deer that big, but I'm very happy it was him to get this trophy."
To top off the weekend off, Obrzut came home to a balloon-lined driveway and a homecoming invitation from Corey.
"His family and our friends all came to congratulate him now," she said. "It was a crazy amazing weekend for all three of us. We are all friends and shoot competitive archery together, and I don't think we will ever have such an amazing, memorial weekend like that again. I love being in the outdoors."