In Michigan, you’re never more than seven miles from a body of water or 80 miles from a Great Lake. These lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh, available surface water. They provide drinking water for roughly 35-million people. And these lakes are under attack.
There are two proposals for fish farms in our Great Lakes. The proposed fish farms would use a net pen aquaculture system. The problem with net pens is that they aren’t contained systems so tens of thousands of fish can escape and spread disease to native fish populations and dilute their gene pool.
These systems also produce a tremendous amount of waste. In fact, there is no way to capture waste in a net pen system. It just can’t be done. So all this waste, which is rich in phosphorous, will build up in the Great Lakes.
Here in the Great Lakes we know all too well what happens when phosphorous builds up in the lakes: toxic algae blooms. In the summers of 2014 and 2015 some of the largest toxic algae blooms on record formed in Lake Erie in large part due to factory farm runoff. As a result roughly 400,000 people in the Toledo area didn’t have access to safe drinking water for three days. Could you imagine how a fish farm could add to this algae problem.
Proponents of fish farms in the Great Lakes will tell you that Lakes Huron and Michigan are nutrient poor and that these fish farms will actually help improve the nutrient level in the lake. In reality, they would be conducting an uncontrolled experiment with one fifth of the world’s fresh water and there is no telling what will happen.
To add insult to injury, fish farms in the Great Lakes would put jobs and the health of our Great Lakes at risk. Michigan has a thriving recreational fishery that produces 38,000 jobs and brings in about $4-billion per year.
There is a way to farm fish without causing damage to the lakes; recirculation. Recirculation aquaculture utilizes closed systems, indoors to raise fish, but the aquaculture companies don’t like this option. The start-up costs are significant because the companies are responsible for figuring out how to deal with their own waste. They’d much prefer an open, net pen system, where the impacts from the waste produced fall on the shoulders of taxpaying Michiganders.
Farming fish in the Great Lakes doesn’t make sense. If we want to avoid a great big mess, then we need to keep fish farming out of the Great Lakes, period.