Don’t allow fish farms in Michigan waters

03-03-2016

By Howard A. Tanner                                                                

One of my frustrations in my retirement has been a difficulty in speaking out on issues that are of some concern to me. Being 92 has its limitations – but my friends assure me, it’s not limited my expertise.

But I’m speaking out today to express my strong opposition to aquaculture in the waters and connecting rivers of the Great Lakes – including the Au Sable River.

When I think of Michigan’s latest infatuation with aquaculture – be it in Grayling on the Au Sable River, or in the Great Lakes – I am reminded of a saying: Some people learn from their mistakes. Smart people learn from the mistakes of others.

There are many mistakes to learn from when it comes to using our public waters as the sewers for private companies raising and selling fish. All around the globe, fish farming in public waters has led to water pollution, spread of fish disease, and widespread opposition by those who have to live with the visual pollution and other consequences of fish farming.

We here in Michigan have labored for sixty years to make our lakes clean. We are leaders of all matters related to the Great Lakes. Half the population of Michigan gets its water from the Great Lakes, part of 30 million people in the basin who rely on the lakes for drinking water. Maintaining the cleanliness of this water should be the top priority for state and federal officials.

The phosphate emissions from the fish in one net pen operation is the equivalent of the phosphate emissions from a sewer plant for 10,000 people. This fish sewage will create filamentous algae, which will wash up on nearby beaches, rot and stink. If this is going to be a $1 billion industry, as advocates say, there will be about 100 net pen operations, filling virtually every bay of any size in Michigan’s portion of the Great Lakes. Imagine one in Grand Traverse Bay, or in front of the Grand Hotel, or in the South Arm of Lake Charlevoix.

Already, the lakes are under pressure, with algae blooms from high phosphorous levels (the kind virtually guaranteed to grow with fish farming) creating toxins forcing closure of water intakes in cities including Cleveland and Toledo in recent years. Will Rogers once counseled wise men should drink upstream from the herd – but many of Michigan’s major cities would be downstream from this herd of fish.

Any mistakes in the Great Lakes are uncorrectable. People advocating for aquaculture talk about adaptive management – when they make a mistake, they will correct it. But in a huge area, you can’t make a correction.

And the impact of a mistake on a river like the Au Sable could easily damage the river, and its economic potential, for generations. The addition of more than 1,500 pounds of algae-creating phosphorous a year from the proposed Grayling fish farm will be devastating to the river’s ecosystem.

People have learned this the hard way in Norway and in Chile, where massive net penning operations have collapsed financially. As can easily be expected when you put that many animals into a confined area, the fish farms have introduced diseases into the natural population. Today, the natural Atlantic Salmon fishery in the North Atlantic is shrinking. It’s an ecological disaster.

These same patterns are seen in flow-through fish farms, such as the one being developed on the Au Sable. They all do the same thing – they make no pretense of treating the fecal and urine matter of a large number of animals. They discharge that matter into the public water – our drinking water, for many communities on the Great Lakes.

I know these issues well. I grew up in Bellaire, and guided anglers on the Chain O’ Lakes. I fished the “Holy Waters” with George Griffiths, and stayed at his beloved “Barbless Hook” on the banks of Au Sable.

I studied fish and their habitats – including an experiment where I looked into the impact of adding nutrients to six lakes. My conclusion: This was a big mistake. And I was part of a team that introduced salmon into the Great Lakes.

So it’s with a love of Michigan’s great waters, experience as a scientist and teacher and the understanding of the pressures facing regulators gained through a long career with the Department of Natural Resources that I speak today.

Michigan shouldn’t be inviting any industry into our state that says, “don’t make us treat our waste. Let us dump it into your fresh water.”

You wouldn’t put a pigpen in a rose garden. It’s just common sense.

Don’t put fish farms on our rivers or in our Great Lakes. It’s just common sense.

bridgemi.com/2016/03/dont-allow-fish-farms-in-michigan-waters

Get Involved in the World’s Largest Shoreline Cleanup on September 19!

The Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Ocean Conservancy invite you to join hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide in cleaning up beaches and shorelines on Saturday, September 19, during the 2015 Adopt-a-Beach™ event held in Michigan and other Great Lakes states. The annual Adopt-a-Beach™ event is part of the International Coastal Cleanup organized by the Ocean Conservancy. In last year’s clean-up, Michigan volunteers put in 11,304 hours and removed 9,207 pounds of trash. The Office of the Great Lakes, Coastal Zone Management Program is a long-time supporter of Michigan’s annual Adopt-a-Beach™ event, and we would love to see more volunteers removing more trash from our coasts in 2015.

Walking the beach, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow volunteers, and leaving the shoreline cleaner than you found it are some of the perks of pitching in on the clean-up event. Another important benefit is that the trash collected is tallied, and the resulting data on the types and quantities of trash items feed into research projects aiming to identify the origins of the trash and ways to curb it.

READ MORE

Shipwreck artifacts found in Lake Erie

Nautical history buffs will have a rare opportunity to examine artifacts from a ship that frequented the St. Clair River during the 1850s.

Sombra Museum has unveiled a display documenting the life of the barque New Brunswick, a 129-foot sailing vessel built in St. Catharines that holds an important distinction in Canadian shipbuilding history.

“While it was very typical of the tall ships that you’d see on the St. Clair in the 1850s, it was unique in that it was the first North American-made sailing vessel to take a load of wheat across to England and back,” said the museum’s Allan Anderson.

“Normally, wheat would ship to Quebec and then it would be the bigger European and English ships that would make the journey across the ocean.”

Originally constructed in the 1840s, the New Brunswick was owned by the Merritts of St. Catharines, relatives of William Hamilton Merritt, the man responsible for building the original Welland Canal.

The ship made its maiden voyage in May 1847, leaving Chicago hauling 18,000 bushels of wheat. The vessel sailed down the St. Clair River and cleared the Welland Canal before making the journey to Liverpool, England.

For over 10 years the New Brunswick sailed the St. Clair, making the jaunt across the Atlantic, reflective of the new breed of ships that existed in the Great Lakes at the time. But in the summer of 1858, the ship met an early end.

In August, a powerful storm hit Lake Erie while the New Brunswick was transporting square oak timbers to Tonawanda, NY. Gale winds ripped the ship apart, killing all five of its crew members. The ship sank in 40 feet of water, not far from Wheatley.

For years after its early demise, rumours abounded about the ship’s cargo, said Anderson. Many believed the ship’s cargo contained a sizeable quantity of black walnut hardwood, at the time an incredibly valuable commodity.

“Everybody thought that they’d get rich,” Anderson said. “But nobody knew how to salvage the ship and claim it.”

It wasn’t until 120 years after the New Brunswick sank to the bottom of Lake Erie that a man named Mike Dilts was able to use fairly sophisticated technology to pinpoint the wreckage and salvage material from the ship.

Unfortunately for Dilts, the stories of black walnut weren’t true. After salvaging the oak timbers and over 200 artifacts from the ship, he couldn’t find any of the valuable hardwood in the wreckage. Dilts gave some of the artifacts he found from the New Brunswick – such as shoes, pulleys and chains – to a friend in Sarnia, Marty Cole, who recently provided the materials to the museum.

Now members of the public can take a glimpse at some of the finds from the New Brunswick, a ship that holds a prominent place in the evolution of North American shipping.

“It’s just a great find,” said Anderson. “It’s really reflective of shipping in the Great Lakes in that period, it pertains to shipwrecks, improvements in shipbuilding and the history of the St. Clair River.”New Brunswick

Fertilizer limits needed to curb algae problems in Lake Erie

A United States-Canadian agency called on Wednesday for swift and sweeping limits on the use of fertilizer around Lake Erie to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the water and creating a vast blanket of algae each summer, threatening fisheries, tourism and even drinking water.

In a report on the algae problem, the agency, the International Joint Commission, said that fertilizer swept by rains from farms and lawns was a major source of phosphorus in the lake. It recommended that crop insurance be tied to farmers’ adoption of practices that limit fertilizer runoff, and that Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania ban most sales of phosphorus-based lawn fertilizers.

The commission, which studies and regulates water uses in streams and lakes along the border of the United States and Canada, urged Michigan and Ohio to invoke the Clean Water Act to limit phosphorus pollution from farmland as opposed to from factories and other places where pollution can be pinpointed and measured.

The proposals are likely to encounter strong opposition from the agricultural industry and fertilizer manufacturers. Both groups have already asked a federal appeals court to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating farm-related pollution from phosphorus and other chemicals along the Chesapeake Bay.

Phosphorus — and especially phosphorus in fertilizer, which is designed to be easily absorbed by plants — is the source of the algal blooms, some of which are so toxic that they have killed dogs and sickened swimmers. Beyond clotting the lake’s surface, decomposing algae consumes the oxygen in the lake’s deep center each summer, creating a dead zone where deepwater fish that are essential to the lake’s food chain cannot exist.

National and state governments rid the lake of algae in the 1980s, ordering big cuts in phosphorus pollution from factories and sewage plants. But the blooms returned in the late 1990s as farmers started applying fertilizer on frozen fields in the winter, and spreading or spraying it instead of injecting it into the ground.

In 2011, heavy spring rains washed so much phosphorus into the lake that the succeeding summer, algal bloom, at 1,920 square miles, was three times bigger than any previous one.

That and other large blooms have crippled tourism in a region where sport fishing and lake recreation are major industries, and they have forced towns and cities to filter and even shut off drinking water. The multibillion-dollar commercial fishing industry could be hit hard. The lake’s growing dead zone has prompted deepwater fish to move upward in search of oxygen, only to run into warmer waters that they find hard to tolerate. Deepwater fish such as perch — a favorite food of one big commercial fish, the walleye — could suffer if the dead zone continues to expand.

“The long-term potential impact on fisheries is something we’re really worried about,” said Donald Scavia, a scientist at the University of Michigan’s Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.

Although the sources of phosphorus range from leaky septic tanks to storm sewers to ordinary rainfall, the biggest contributor is farming, the report indicates — and the biggest farm source is the fields along the Maumee River watershed in Ohio and Indiana.

Both the United States and Canada have set targets for reducing Erie’s phosphorus load by 2018, but the commission’s report states that those targets are too low. To return the lake to the mostly algae-free state it enjoyed in the mid-1990s, it states, the Maumee’s phosphorus runoff must be cut by 39 percent.

Both governments and private organizations conduct programs that encourage farmers to voluntarily limit fertilizer runoff, but regulatory limits are mostly nonexistent. The commission’s report urges a mix of voluntary and legal programs to achieve large reductions by 2022, with a focus on dissolved reactive phosphorus, the sort used in fertilizers.

The report also states that farmers in lakeside states and provinces should prohibit spreading fertilizer on snowy or frozen ground, where it is most likely to be carried away by melting or rains, and should limit applications in the fall.

For homeowners, the report recommends that Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania ban the sale of phosphorus-based lawn fertilizers except during the first growing season of new lawns, or when soil tests show that the phosphorus content is too low. It also says that Michigan and Ontario should require inspections of septic tanks to ensure they do not leak.

Phosphorus cuts to try and stop Lake Erie algae blooms

U.S.-Canadian agency is calling for sharp cutbacks in phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie to counter a worsening problem of algae blooms that degrade water quality, harm fish and chase away tourists.

In a report Thursday, the International Joint Commission identifies farm fertilizer as a primary culprit in feeding runaway algae blooms. It recommends placing Lake Erie on a federal impaired waters list, which would activate a plan to limit phosphorus levels.

It particularly targets the Maumee Bay watershed in Ohio and Indiana on the lake’s western side, proposing a 39 percent annual reduction in phosphorus runoff from its tributaries through a combination of regulations and voluntary actions.

Lake Erie’s algae problem has worsened in recent years. The largest bloom ever recorded extended more than 100 miles in 2011.