Big win for the Great Lakes: Schuette says no to fish farms in public waters

MEC and allies have argued for more than two years that commercial fish farms have no place in our Great Lakes. This week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette agreed.

"In an opinion released Tuesday, Schuette said net-pen aquaculture operators would have to register with the state, and laws related to aquaculture don't permit registration of such facilities in Michigan's Great Lakes waters," the Associated Press reports.

While Ontario has allowed some fish farms along its Lake Huron shoreline, they have not been permitted in Michigan or other Great Lakes states. When proposals emerged for net-pen operations near Rogers City and Escanaba, MEC and a number of partners researched the risks, identified serious environmental and economic concerns and mounted a strong opposition.

"The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable resource that we must carefully steward, not only for our use but for future generations," Schuette tells Michigan Distilled. "It is a priority of mine to protect these waters. The professional work relationship the MEC has provided, along with their expertise, has helped me carry out my duties on such issues as this important opinion on aquaculture."

Schuette's opinion was the latest in a series of statements from state officials sharing our view that net-pen aquaculture is too risky for the Great Lakes.

  • The MIRS newsletter reported (subscription required) Jan. 3 that Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, "doesn't envision a day when commercial net pen aquaculture would be allowed by Michigan in the Great Lakes."
  • Last March, three state agencies recommended against allowing aquaculture in Michigan's Great Lakes waters, citing serious environmental and economic risks identified by MEC and partners. The recommendation came a few weeks after statewide polling found nearly seven in 10 Michiganders were against opening the state's Great Lakes waters to fish farming.
  • In 2015, a state panel charged with reviewing the science on net-pen aquaculture reported that Great Lakes fish farms would dump untreated waste into the lakes, provide a breeding ground for diseases that could spread to wild fish and could threaten the genetic diversity of wild fish through interbreeding, among other environmental risks.
  • Also in 2015, a pair of Republican lawmakers introduced bills in the House and Senate to ban net-pen aquaculture in the Great Lakes.
So what does Schuette's opinion mean for our work to protect the Great Lakes from fish farms?

In supporting legislation to ban Great Lakes aquaculture, our aim was to clarify state law, which was fairly vague on the issue of aquaculture. Unless it is overturned in the courts, Schuette's opinion appears to serve that purpose.

At any time, however, lawmakers could introduce legislation to change state law and allow net-pen aquaculture in the Great Lakes. That's why MEC must remain vigilant. We will keep an eye out for any such proposal and will do everything possible to stop it.

Meanwhile, we need to develop a clear regulatory framework for those who want to do aquaculture the right way in Michigan. There's a lot of potential here for sustainable, on-land aquaculture systems that fully treat their wastewater. We'd like to see this industry grow, and we'll continue working to help it do so in an environmentally friendly fashion.

For now, we'd like to thank Attorney General Schuette for making the right call to keep polluting fish farms out of our Great Lakes.

Thanks, too, to all of our financial supporters, whose generosity has made possible our work on this important issue. You can help us protect the Great Lakes by clicking here to make a donation.


Photo courtesy Sam Beebe via Flickr.

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