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Battle over fish farming on Au Sable River comes to Lansing

The Au Sable River
Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byways
The Au Sable River

The debate over fish farming in Michigan has arrived in Lansing.

Hearings are taking place at the state Capitol as environmental groups argue against a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality. That permit allows the operation of a fish hatchery operated by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm in Grayling to raise rainbow trout on a branch of the Au Sable River, which is located in the northern lower peninsula, about 50 miles east of Traverse City.

Mark Luttenton, a professor of Biology at Grand Valley State University and Josh Greenberg, owner of the Gates Au Sable Lodge in Grayling, joined Stateside to discuss the debate. Both of them will testify at the hearings in Lansing.

“The primary concern is the addition of nutrients to the Au Sable River,” said Luttenton, who will be testifying on behalf of the anglers’ groups that are objecting to the permit, which would set regulations for certain levels of water quality for the river.

“One of the big concerns among the anglers and the conservation groups is the number of fish … that they are proposing to produce at the hatchery, the river would start to creep back toward those conditions that everyone saw back in the '60s and '70s when phosphate was a relatively large issue in the river.”

Luttenton says he is also concerned about the potential risk for diseases among the fish due to the large number that will be produced at the hatchery.

Greenberg, whose business is located about eight miles downstream from the hatchery is concerned about the impact it will have on his own lodge, but also for other local businesses around Grayling if the river is polluted.

Greenberg says the Au Sable River is one of the most productive wild trout fisheries east of the Mississippi River and is a major tourist attraction for the area.

The question for Greenberg is: Does this fish farm offer a benefit? He says no, and is fearful for what the future might hold for the river and the local tourism industry if the hatchery is allowed to continue operating as planned.

“If [the hatchery] can be done cleanly … I won’t be on pins and needles anymore,” said Greenberg. “But as it is now, and as I read some of the predictive models of what that phosphorus could mean to us as a business, I’m just nervous and scared.”

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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