You can’t plow the Great Lakes, but two commercial aquaculture operations want to farm them.
The state is considering the prospect of commercially raising rainbow trout in net pens anchored in the Great Lakes after two companies in 2014 approached the state about trout farming in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
The state departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Natural Resources and Environmental Quality asked for reviews of the science, regulation and economics of net-pen aquaculture. The resulting five reports are posted online and, from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 19 in the convention center at Treetops Resort, 3962 Wilkinson Road, Gaylord, staff from the three departments will discuss the findings and take public comment.
Judy Ogden, a member of the Blue Water Sportfishing Association and the Lake Huron Citizens Fisheries Advisory Committee, said there appear to be competing interests regarding fish farming in the Great Lakes.
“Corporate interests are pushing for aquaculture, and on the other hand, people who work in fisheries are concerned,” she said. “There are some issues in aquaculture in terms of escapement and concerns about massive amounts of feces and waste that damage the areas beneath the cages.”
Tammy Newcomb, senior water policy adviser with the Department of Natural Resources. said the state is not at the point of saying yea or nay to fish farming in the Great Lakes.
The three departments would share regulatory authority over any facility, Newcomb said: The agriculture department would have to issue registration for a facility; the DEQ would have to issue a permit for bottomland construction and a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit; and the DNR would have to issue a permit for stocking fish into state waters.
Tribal authorities also would be involved if the facilities were proposed for tribal waters, she said.
“The authorities are diffused,” Newcomb said. “Right now, there is no authority to give a registration for an aquaculture facility in the Great Lakes.”
She said companies involved in fish farming would hatch and raise juvenile fish in a production facility, then take the fish to the net-pen sites where they would spend a year growing and fattening for the market — similar to taking cattle to a feedlot where they put on pounds before slaughter.
The fish would be genetically modified so that they could not reproduce.
Ogden said the two big issues are the captive fish escaping from the pens and somehow introducing their genes into the wild population and the feces and other waste beneath the nets.
“I talked with a fisheries person who said that (altering the fish) works 90-something percent of the time,” she said. “There still might be a small percentage that could reproduce.
“I don’t think this would be a good thing — a mixture of aquaculture fish and wild fish.”
Feces and other waste could damage the lake bottom, Ogden said.
“The communities need to be heard on this issue,” she said. “The underwater belongs to the people of the state of Michigan. It’s held in trust by the state government.
“They are using the people’s waters for free unless there’s some kind of financial responsibility they bear.”
Newcomb said there are six aquaculture facilities in the Great Lakes, all on the Canadian side and in the North Channel and Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. The pens are in near-shore waters; some are attached to piers and others are accessible only by boat.
According to the report on economic impact the two proposed facilities each would be expected to eventually generate a 1 million pounds of rainbow trout annually. With an assumed price of $2.75 per pound, the expected production of the two facilities would be a combined $5.5 million annually.
The areas most impacted in Michigan would be Alpena and Mason counties in the Lower Peninsula and Menominee County in the Upper Peninsula.
The report also indicates that direct full- and part-time employment resulting from the fish farming facilities would be 17 jobs with 27 secondary jobs.
According to information from the Michigan Aquaculture Association website, aquaculture accounts for more than 50 percent of the fish consumed worldwide and the United States imports 85 percent of its seafood.
A report from a scientific advisory panel listed several “special considerations” about fish farming in the Great Lakes including:
- Availability of fish feed;
- The possibility of algae such as Cladophora colonizing the nets and causing them to collapse;
- Zebra and quagga mussels colonizing and fouling the nets;
- Ice hampering operations.
Another consideration would be introducing diseases or magnifying fish diseases endemic in the Great Lakes. Newcomb said fish coming to the net-pens from a hatchery would be certified disease-free, but “there are diseases in the environment.”
Confining the fish in a net-pen could could potentially increase the chances of the pathogens spreading from fish to fish, increasing the numbers of germs and increasing the potential for an outbreak in the wild population.
“There are some very strict guidelines as far as disease management,” Newcomb said.
She acknowledged many people are passionate about the Great Lakes and that the meeting in Gaylord will give them a forum.
Ogden, however, said the timing could have been better.
“Unfortunately it’s been scheduled the first week of firearms deer hunting,” she said. “I think that is poor planning on their part because a lot of people who would be interested are at deer camp.”
Contact Bob Gross at (810) 989-6263 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertGross477.
The state will have a public meeting regarding aquaculture in the Great Lakes from 1-4 p.m. in the convention center at Treetops Resort, 3962 Wilkinson Road, Gaylord.
People who want to comment should register by contacting Hannah Guyer at (517) 284-5813 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five reviews of proposals to establish net-pen fish farming in Michigan waters of the Great Lakes are available at www,michigan.gov/aquaculture.
The Michigan Aquaculture Association website is at http://michiganaquaculture.org/