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Fish Farmageddon

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***Folks, we interrupt your regularly schedule programming to bring you a special feature on the issues going on regarding the proposed fish farm on the historic Au Sable river.  While the information here may read as outlandish as other Tuesday Bananas articles, it is not embellished, nor is it satire.

A dangerous cocktail of entrepreneurial myopia, county officials willing to pimp out a priceless and fragile resource, and an agency asleep at the wheel has been poured in northern Michigan as the largest fish farming business in the state gears up for production just upstream of the famed Holy Waters of the Au Sable River.

Harietta Hills Trout Farm is on the verge of turning a simple caretaker arrangement with Crawford County to operate the historic Grayling Fish Hatchery into wads of cash as they plan to ramp production up from 20,000 pounds of trout annually to 300,000 pounds.

The East Branch of the Au Sable literally runs through the hatchery where river water is directed into rearing areas called raceways then right back into the river at a rate of 8.64 million gallons per day. Hatcheries with far less production are required to operate wastewater treatment systems with settling ponds and chemical treatments to bind and drop out phosphorous and other pollutants. But let’s not talk about that in the face of economic prosperity for Harietta Hills. Also, let’s not even mention the risk of introducing invasive species and disease to the Au Sable as hundreds of thousands of pounds of trout are moved in and out of the place each year. While we’re at it,

Let’s not ask why a study wasn’t required to understand impacts to pollution intolerant aquatic invertebrates such as mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis when a giant trout toilet is constantly flushed into their faces.

Let’s not discuss prudent lease requirements to rear only native species such as brook, brown, and rainbow trout OR discuss the effect on wild fish when farm fish, hopefully not exotics, escape into the Au Sable.

Let’s not get upset about the site’s MDEQ pollution permit that actually states “lowering of water quality is necessary to support the identified important social and economic development in the area”.

Let’s not ask about the moral hazard of Harietta Hills self-monitoring water quality by collecting their own weekly pollution discharge sampling and why it’s not done on a automated and continuous basis.

Let’s not discuss what happens when mass quantities of hatchery fish are treated with formalin, better known as formaldehyde, to remove parasites allowing residual chemical to flow into the river OR what happens when some knucklehead employee dumps 20 gallons instead of 20 ounces into the river.

Let’s not ask Harietta Hills why they need to go from 20,000 pounds to 300,000 pounds of trout in order to make the tourist attraction profitable.

Let’s not ask why Harietta Hills isn’t having to put up financial assurance such as a performance bond or environmental pollution coverage to restore damage that may be caused.

Let’s not ask MDNR or MDEQ why they are willing to allow phosphorous levels to increase with seasonal, summer fluctuations, instead of requiring more restrictive limits during the time of year fish are most stressed.

Let’s not discuss permit bypass provisions which allow, during unavoidable events including property damage, for effluent limitations to be exceeded.

Let’s not discuss the risk of whirling disease, known to increase when raceways are filled to capacity.

Harietta Hills says they are simply responding to a seafood crisis and that we should get behind them.  It would seem that their motives are a bit less altruistic and a bit more capitalistic.  Regarding economic benefit, just how many jobs will this will actually create, maybe a couple?  How many jobs do we stand to lose if guides, restaurants, hotels, and retailers, are unable to make money off the amazing fishery that exists today?

Allowing a giant trout farm in the headwaters of the AuSable is simply bananas.

Go to Anglers of the Au Sable webpage to learn more and make a donation.

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