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A scientific panel weighs in on fish farming

Nov 3, 2015

A report on fish farming in the Great Lakes suggests Michigan should move carefully if it allows the industry to start up.

State officials asked a panel of scientists to study the issue. There have been two proposals from companies that want to start raising rainbow trout in net pens in the Great Lakes.

Canadians raise millions of trout in Lake Huron every year and some people want Michigan to do the same.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he’s been covering this story.

He says the panel described the science of fish farming as “poorly understood” in the Great Lakes.

“So they recommend a kind of learn-as-you go approach,” Payette says. “They call it ‘adaptive management.’ And they're saying, set this up in such a way so it can be carefully monitored and changes can be made quickly as problems emerge."

The main concern scientists have about pollution from these farms is phosphorus, a nutrient plants need.

“But when you have so many fish defecating in one place, then you end up with too much and you can have plants and algae excessively growing,” Payette says. “You can even end up with toxins in the water that are poisonous to animals and humans. And the thing that this report points out is that there's no way for fish farms to capture that fish waste.”

Where would these fish farms go?

Payette says fish farms are proposed for the Bay de Noch near Escanaba, and in Lake Huron near Roger’s City. But he says the panel points out that siting these farms could be challenging.

“The report even draws an analogy to wind turbines on the Great Lakes, which you'll probably recall: four or five years ago that was a very explosive issue and they've developed a tool to try and analyze where you could put a wind turbine that would work and wouldn't upset people. And they're saying you're going to need to take the same approach with these fish farms. It'll be very complex.”

You can hear more in the interview above.