Aquaculture in the Great Lakes? Not a Good Idea

by Charlie Weaver

Is aquaculture—growing lots of healthy eating fish inexpensively through fish farming—a great idea?  NO!  The basic problem with raising many animals in a small space is poop.  Large net-pens (fish cages) producing hundreds of thousands of fish will generate untreated fecal waste in huge amounts.  This is essentially the same problem with other CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations)–too many fertilizing agents headed downstream which wind up producing massive toxic algae in larger bodies of water.   The Lake Erie and Toledo, OH water pollution disaster of 2014, is a perfect example.

Some have argued in support of aquaculture that the waters of the Great Lakes are a public trust, but that argument, to me, is precisely why aquaculture should not be permitted to pollute these waters.  According to Jim Olson, attorney with For Love of Water (FLOW), the waters of the Great Lakes are “a shared public commons for the benefit of citizens for navigation, boating, fishing, health, and sustenance.”

And, according to Dr. Howard Tanner, former Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries director, “…one net-pen operation can produce the equivalent of phosphate emissions from a sewer plant for 10,000 people.  This fish sewage will create filamentous algae, which will wash up on nearby beaches and rot and stink.”

Only in self-contained aquaculture facilities can the waste products of the fish be controlled and kept out of the people’s waters downstream.

Another problem with fish farms is the antibiotics used to control disease.  Again, the leftovers get flushed down the river or are mixed in with the lake waters and are then consumed by you and me.

Economics are another part of the big picture.  Lake Michigan sport and commercial fishing is a billion dollar industry.  Aquaculture can’t compare to that in generating jobs or money.

Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette is on the side of protecting the environment.  He has ruled that fish farming does not improve the public trust for the uses listed above, and would necessarily interfere with or impair them.  Thus, it is illegal in his opinion.  He says that fish farming in the Great Lakes does not fall within the definition of “aquaculture facility” under the state aquaculture law, because the definition only allows fish farms in privately controlled waters.  Under the Great Lakes Submerged Lands Act as well, it is illegal to “occupy” public waters for primarily private purposes such as fish farming.

So my suggestion is to NOT purchase Rainbow Trout in the supermarket or order it in the restaurant.  That is the species usually raised in commercial fish farms.   Instead, go fishing in a nearby lake or stream in which trout swim and grow naturally and where it is legal to keep them.  Try to catch one or two, yourself.  It’s quite enjoyable and they are good for you, too.

About Charlie Weaver

Charlie Weaver is a retired fly fishing river guide on the Au Sable, Manistee, and Pere Marquette rivers.  He serves as a board member on the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, and belongs to the Anglers of the Au Sable (Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited) and to the Clearwater Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club.

PO Box 1308
Kalkaska, MI 49646
ctejedor AT copper.net

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