Tag Archives: Great Lakes

Aquaculture, Properly Implemented, Improves Public Water Use for All

by S.A. McFerran, B.A. Environmental Studies, Antioch University

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette recently weighed in on aquaculture. His opinion is that aquaculture would subordinate public uses of open waters in favor of private control. 

The open waters of Lake Michigan have been used for commercial purposes in the past and are currently used for commercial purposes. Aquaculture is a commercial use, as are marinas and trap nets already in common usage by commercial fishermen. Trap nets are set in the Spring and often remain on the lake bottom until fall. They are checked regularly and the fish are sorted and the nets returned to the lake bottom. A net pen for aquaculture is similar and like a trap net would not interfere with public use of open waters. With proper siting, scale and monitoring, pollution is minimal. (1)

What tools do the architects of an ecosystem have? Add species, subtract species (as with the sea lamprey), improve habitat and change goals. Fishery departments know a lot about the limnology of the lakes. Using that knowledge, places favorable to aquaculture could be identified. Limited operation could be allowed in those places. 

A worthy goal is the local production of fish by Michigan citizens in Michigan waters. Just as enthusiastic farmers sell vegetables at local markets, small aquaculture operations could offer fresh local fish at market. Large corporate fish operations should not be the goal. The goal is a citizen-led entrepreneurial process that allows aquaculture on a local basis. 

If government is making a determination on how many fish can be raised in the Great Lakes, it would be informative to know what the historic population of fish was. It is clear to anyone reading historic accounts of fishing in the Great Lakes that the population of fish was, in the past, much greater than it is now. In 1872, 39 million pounds of fish was taken. The total fish population was more than twice the present populations. (2) That alone puts to rest the argument against the resiliency of the Lakes. 

Additionally, other technical problems of aquaculture can be solved in Michigan as they are being solved in the rest of the world. (3) The State of Michigan has learned a lot about how to operate aquaculture in places like Platte River. That hatchery was once a big polluter of Platte Lake but they cleaned it up and now raise millions of fish pollution free. 

Another local success story concerns Harrietta Hills Trout Farm LLC, on the AuSable River, which has operated for five years without incident. The Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit for the farm that holds the operators to high standards which “requires weekly monitoring for phosphorus, which cannot, on a seasonal average basis, exceed 15 parts-per-billion in the 8.64 million gallons-per-day”. (4)

Ecosystems are complex. In recent history, marketing the experience of catching fish, and sport fishing in general, has subordinated any other possible use of the Lakes, including aquaculture. Both have a place in the Lakes. The Waters held in “public trust” are held for all the “public,” not just sports fishermen.

S.A. McFerran
B.A. Environmental Studies, Antioch University
Platte River, Michigan

(1) Diana, Jim, quoted from personal correspondence with the author, February 2017. Dr. Jim Diana is Director for Michigan Sea Grant, and is involved in leading the statewide program in its research, education and outreach efforts on critical Great Lakes issues, such as sustainable coastal development and fisheries.  When asked about pollution issues, specifically if Aquaculture pens can be operated without polluting the Lakes, his response was: “Absolutely. There are 11 licensed operations in Lake Huron on the Canadian side, and no damages have been determined from them as of recently. There was a problem in one area, with nutrient addition causing some algal blooms, but they moved to another location and all has been fine since.”

(2) Bogue, M.L. Fishing the Great Lakes – An Environmental History. University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

(3) “On January 11, NOAA published a final rule implementing our nation’s first regional regulatory program for offshore aquaculture in federal waters. In doing so, NOAA is expanding opportunities for U.S. seafood farming in the open ocean. NOAA and our partners are working to advance and expand U.S. aquaculture.” NOAA Fisheries. “NOAA Expands Opportunities for U.S. Aquaculture.” Accessed March 20, 2016. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2016/01/offshore_aq_rule.html

(4) Ellison, Garret. “In battle over Holy Waters, anglers put Michigan fish farming on trial.” M-Live. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/ausable_fish_farm_grayling_hat.html

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

AQUACULTURE:  A Recipe for Economic Growth or Environmental Disaster?

In the broadest sense, aquaculture means growing water plants and animals for food, but in the Great Lakes area, it refers mostly to fish farming, raising fish in ponds or within nets in a defined area.  The practice is controversial with entrepreneurs claiming it can be done without harming the environment and environmentalists countering that it can threaten important ecosystems.  Whether it should be done in Lake Michigan or Lake Huron raises still more questions.  In this feature, two of our contributors, Stewart McFerran and Charles Weaver, take up the issue, each supporting opposing sides.

McFerran argues for aquaculture in his piece, Aquaculture, Properly Implemented, Improves Public Water Use for All

Weaver argues against fish farming in Aquaculture in the Great Lakes? Not a Good Idea

Enjoy the discussion!

Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes

When you look out at Power Island, South Manitou, or Mackinac Island, you see a tiered wedding cake apparition rising from the water.  Often we take that appearance at face value, never asking the important question, “How did it come to be that way?”  Indeed, there is an explanation and it is not hard to understand.

A moraine is a glacially-formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris that occurs in formerly glaciated regions. Image courtesy of Illinois State Genealogical Society.
A moraine is a glacially-formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris that occurs in formerly glaciated regions. Image courtesy of Illinois State Genealogical Society.

Most residents of the Traverse area know that the Lakes were carved out by glaciers—and not so long ago in geologic time.  The last major advance was 14,000 years ago, with secondary advances occurring as late as 12,000 years ago.  This continental glacier was a mile thick in places, certainly big enough to carry boulders to unlikely places, make north-south gouges in underlying bedrock, and form moraines both at the endpoints of its advances and at points where the glaciers simply melted, letting down its cargo of rocks, gravel, and sand.  The steep, winding path of M-72 going up from West Bay climbs the end moraine of the last glacial advance.

What does the glacier have to do with the wedding cake appearance of islands in the upper Great Lakes?  The terraces far above the present lake levels are beaches created during our glacial past when the water took different pathways to drain the melted ice water.

As the ice retreated, that water left the Upper Great Lakes by way of the Chicago River to the west and Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River to the east.  This was a high water level, the surface of future Lakes Michigan and Lake Huron standing at 605 feet above sea level.  Since the present level of those lakes is 535 feet, an ancient beach can observed high above the water on Mackinac Island—the uppermost tier.  The combined waters of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan formed a single expanse called Lake Algonquin.

Stages of development of Lake Algonquin, "Glacial lakes". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glacial_lakes.jpg#/media/File:Glacial_lakes.jpg
Stages of development of Lake Algonquin, “Glacial lakes”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glacial_lakes.jpg#/media/File:Glacial_lakes.jpg

Later, retreating ice opened a drainage pattern through Georgian Bay and out through Ontario by way of the Ottawa River.  This event marked a low water stage for the Upper Lakes, a state that was not preserved very long. 

As the weight of the glacier left the land, it sprang back up much like a trampoline relieved of a hurtling athlete.  The effect was to cut off the drainage directly through Canada and bring back the familiar pattern through the Chicago River and the Detroit River.  Another high water level stage resulted, this time resulting in a combined lake comprising Lakes Michigan and Huron called Lake Nipissing.  Lake Nipissing beaches are lower than Lake Algonquin’s, but they can be seen readily on Power Island and the Manitous. 

The Great Lakes are constantly changing: the land is still springing back as a consequence of the disappearance of the glacier and changes in precipitation and evaporation (as well as human use) cause year-to-year, decade-to-decade changes.  Climate change might cause rapid changes, low water stages resulting from increased evaporation or high water stages coming from increased precipitation.  As yet, a clear pattern has not emerged.

The story of the Great Lakes is charmingly told in a Canadian Film Board movie, The Rise and Fall of the Great Lakes, which we reference here:


Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.