Michigan agencies oppose Great Lakes net-pen fish farming


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan should reject net-like commercial fishing enclosures in parts of the Great Lakes that are under the state’s jurisdiction, regulators recommended Wednesday.

A report by three state departments found so-called “net-pen aquaculture” could damage the environment and wild fish populations while requiring the state to develop an oversight program costing millions of dollars a year — all for an industry with modest economic potential.

The departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, and Agriculture and Rural Development co-authored the report, which also noted strong public opposition from members of the public and from Native American tribes, some of which have fishing treaty rights in parts of the Great Lakes.

Net-pen operations are not forbidden under Michigan law. Anyone could apply for permits necessary to get started. But the report signals that prospects for approval would be slim.

“The three departments are in lockstep in not recommending net-pen aquaculture in the Great Lakes at this time,” said Tammy Newcomb, senior water policy adviser for the DNR.

Bills on both sides of the issue are pending in the Legislature. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs praised the departments’ report and urged lawmakers to enact a measure to ban the operations sponsored by Rep. Jon Bumstead, a Republican from Newaygo.

There are no net-pen commercial fish farms in Great Lakes waters under U.S. control, although Canada has allowed them in Lake Huron for decades.

Michigan received proposals in 2014 for establishing one rainbow trout operation in Lake Michigan and another in Lake Huron. A state task force commissioned studies on potential environmental and economic effects, as well as legal issues.

Net-pen aquaculture “would pose significant risks to fishery management and other types of recreation and tourism,” the report issued Friday said.

“When you put that many animals in a dense environment, it’s like a feedlot,” said Frank Krist, chairman of the DNR’s Lake Huron Citizens’ Fish Advisory Committee. “There’s a better chance of disease becoming more prevalent and spreading to the wild fish populations. There’s a chance of mutations forming.”

Waste and nutrients from the enclosures could promote growth of cladopohora — nuisance algae that washes ashore and spreads greenish muck along beaches, he said.

It would cost the state $3.3 million to establish a net-pen aquaculture oversight program and $2.3 million annually to operate it, which “does not appear to be a prudent use of the state’s resources,” the report said.

Economic output from the two operations would be $10.3 million at best, with fewer than 50 direct and spinoff jobs, it said.

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