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  • Kevin Elliott

The debate over fish farms on the Great Lakes

Dan Vogler is the owner of the family-operated Harrietta Hills Fish Farm in Harrietta, Michigan and the Grayling Fish Hatchery located near the headwaters of the Au Sable River in Grayling. Vogler is part of the group hoping to expand aquaculture facilities – as fish farms are known – into the state's portion of the Great Lakes.

With massive, untapped resources in the northern portions of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, there has already been a push to establish giant "net-pen" aquaculture farms in the Great Lakes. Vogler, who also serves as president of the Michigan Aquaculture Association, said net-pen farms, or net cage enclosures, can be used to raise trout or other species in the Great Lakes.

He and other proponents believe the practice could supply thousands of new jobs and millions to the economy over the next decade. Further, it's farming they say can be done without a massive carbon footprint associated with energy consumption that other inland locations may need.

Opponents of net-pen aquaculture facilities in the Great Lakes say the large amount of food and fish waste that would come from the farms would wreak havoc on water quality in sensitive areas, and could be a breeding ground for fish diseases. Those opposed also say antibiotics and other chemicals used to treat fish would be dumped into the Great Lakes, creating additional water quality issues.

While the push for Great Lakes aquaculture facilities has seemed to cool following a statewide study and subsequent attorney general opinion, those on both sides say it's bound to return. Meanwhile, the debate between using the state's natural resources and creating facilities considered more ecofriendly continues on the Au Sable River in Grayling, where Vogler's latest operation is being considered by the court system.

Already in the business since 1997, Vogler saw an opportunity around 2012, when a friend contacted him about the Grayling Fish Hatchery that was being operated by Crawford County as a tourist attraction. Long-since shuttered as an active rearing facility, the friend was contracted by the county to stock the hatchery's raceway with rainbow trout from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year. However, costs to keep the facility going threatened to shutter the hatchery completely.

"We looked at the potential of the facility, and said if we can get the permits to operate at capacity all year round, like a normal farm, we could be there in the summer and continue the recreation and tourism function. The only way it works economically is for us to be there all year.

"The county was receptive, and we were pretty popular at that point and time."

But Vogler went from being considered a savior to being demonized as a businessman willing to pollute one of the nation's most pristine and sought after rivers – often times referred to by aficionados as the 'Holy Waters' – soon after seeking a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to operate and release fish waste, mainly uneaten food and fecal matter.

"We began getting the paperwork together to get a permit," he said. "Water from the Au Sable flows in, and the water flows out, and a certain amount of waste goes out with it. But it's a regulated amount. We can't do more than that. The DEQ spent a year analyzing and doing background work to determine what the appropriate levels would be."

Almost immediately, Vogler began getting pushback on the facility by the Anglers of the Au Sable association, which represents hundreds of fishermen around the state that consider that portion of the river as sacrosanct. Joined by other conservation and environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Angler's filed suit against the DEQ and its issuance of the permit that allows fish waste to flow into the river from the farm.

Joe Hemming, president of the Anglers of the Au Sable organization, said Vogler pulled a bait and switch move on the community by seemingly coming in to help the tourism aspect, and placing a waste-producing fish farm on a highly sensitive river considered throughout the country as a blue ribbon trout stream.

"When (the county) walked away from it, it was losing money. Then Vogler entered and said he could operate the hatchery and put some fish in the raceway," Hemming said. "Then, after that, he said, 'If I'm going to do it, I have to do it year round, and make some money.' That led to the full-time operation, and to the county giving him a lease for 20 years for a buck. He got a sweetheart deal – but instead of a few fish, there are a whole lot more, and all year round.

"I think it was a case of him getting his foot in the door, and then once he was in, he said, 'I really need this if you want me to stay.' The county wasn't desirous of having it go vacant, but I'm not sure how much effort they put into looking to alternative uses for it and how many were aware of the situation."

The Michigan Sierra Club and the Anglers of the Au Sable lost their lawsuit against the DEQ. Hemming, a Birmingham-based attorney, said the Anglers filed an appeal in the case. Additionally, the Anglers of the Au Sable have filed suit against Vogler and Harrietta Hills Trout Farm, claiming it is violating the Michigan Environmental Protection Act for impairing the Au Sable River through its operation.

"We aren't anti-farming, but if he's going to operate there, he's got to operate with the proper technology to protect the environment," Hemming said. "If he can't afford it, he shouldn't operate there. If you can't pay for the proper protections, then you need to go somewhere else."

Hemming pointed to a recent outbreak of parasites at the fish farm, known as ich. Treatment of the parasite involves a chemical known as formalin, which contains formaldehyde. Hemming said he and others are concerned because formalin was then released into the Au Sable through the treatment process, exposing anyone downstream to formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen in high doses. While Vogler said the treatment was done with approval of the proper state agencies and under the guidance of a certified veterinarian specializing in such treatments, Hemming said people using the waterway should have been alerted.

The incident, combined with the loading of nutrients from fish waste, Hemming said, could have negative impacts on the river. He said such operations should take extra precautions to ensure wastes are filtered out before being sent downstream, and that there are better ways to undertake aquaculture in the state, albeit, not as affordable for all businesses.

"I think Vogler's choice of location has given a black eye to aquaculture," he said. "There's a division in the aquaculture community of what he's done... He's trying to do it on a shoestring, on a blue-ribbon trout stream."

At Bill's Restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan rainbow trout tops the list of entrees. Well-known among diners and anglers throughout the state, trout farmed for food has grown dramatically since the 1950s, with the United States leading the world in ecologically responsible trout farming.

A close relative of salmon, farmed rainbow trout is considered one of the safest fish to eat and is noted for high levels of vitamin B and flavor.

"It's an extremely clean fish. From a pallet standpoint, it's extremely fresh," said Patrick Roettele, corporate executive chef for Roberts Restaurant Group, which features variations of Michigan farmed trout dishes at several of the group's restaurants, including Bill's, Beverly Hills Grill and Cafe ML. "There are other (fish producers), like in Idaho. It's fresh, but it's shipped in cryovac. It's not as pure in my eyes. If you can get something that came out of the water within 48 hours, I'll take that all day long."

The fish, Roettele said, are BAP certified, standing for Best Aquaculture Practices. The certification is considered a trusted and comprehensive program that takes into account environmental, social and economic performances of the supply chain.

"That's the eco-friendly, sustainability side of things," Roettele said. "And we try to pull items that are very local."

Specifically, the rainbow trout Roettele purchases for the restaurant group comes from the Indian Brook Trout Farm, located in Jackson, Michigan. The farm is one of three Michigan-based trout farms in the state that raise fish for commercial sale. The other two commercial-sized trout farms are operated by Vogler.

Owen Ballow, owner of Indian Brook Trout Farm, is taking a different approach to aquaculture. With an educational background in fisheries biology, Ballow spent 30 years in the medical sales field before entering the aquaculture industry. Starting with a small fishing farm targeting tourists, Ballow began scouting locations for a new venture.

"When I was going to retire, my son was graduating from Michigan State and was in the agribusiness field. He bent my ear and said he wanted to specialize in aquaculture, and asked if I was interested in developing it," Ballow said.

In looking for ideal locations, Ballow realized that Absopure draws its water from artesian wells in Jackson, Michigan. As a natural artesian well, the high quality water flows at 50 degrees throughout the year, and is drawn to the surface without using pumps. The water source means the foundation of the facility can be maintained without a large carbon footprint, and with no chance of failure from power outages. Then, before starting to develop the facility, Ballow began working with the DEQ and Michigan Department of Agriculture, which licenses and permits aquaculture facilities in the state.

"We designed the system to capture any effluent going into the river system and made it bigger than what we needed. Then we built the farm in front of it and expanded the farm," Ballow said. "Most people do it opposite. They are constantly trying to build additional containment so they don't exceed limits, but they are constantly exceeding."

Ballow said water drawn into the facility comes from below the area's drinking water aquifer. After it's filtered, it's returned to the Sandstone Creek, and essentially the drinking water source. Therefore, the facility helps to recharge the drinking water aquifer. He said the facility doesn't use any antibiotics, hormones or pesticides. Additionally, the Sandstone Creek isn't a trout stream, which has another benefit.

"You never want to put a farm in the same ecosystem that (the fish you're raising) live in. If you put one up north that's a trout stream, so if they escape or get a disease, they will spread that," Ballow said. "If they escape here, they die. So, if they escape they will swim back and we can capture them. That's the idea. We haven't had any escapes."

In addition to the unique recirculating system that Indian Brook uses, Ballow also instituted a fish processing center on premises, as well as his own distribution network. The combination allows him to grow high volumes of fish, process the fish with no waiting, and sell directly to restaurants and grocers in and between the metro Detroit and Chicago areas, with deliveries in less than two days.

"We harvest within 24 hours of delivery to customers, so people that really appreciate that are chefs and those who want a higher quality product and longer shelf life," he said.

Locally, Indian Brook supplies Meijer Stores, Plum Market, Nino Salvaggio, Meeting House, Beverly Hills Grill, Bill's, Royal Park Hotel, Joe Muer's Bloomfield Hills, Cafe ML, The Reserve and others.

Indian Brook has been embraced by conservation and environmental groups throughout the state, as well as some state lawmakers, as an example of what they say the future of aquaculture should look like in Michigan.

Ballow said the challenge for many getting into the business to develop the way he has is the large costs upfront. Still, he said he hopes to expand operations, and encourages other aquaculture farms, which he hopes he can do business with as a processor and distribution system.

"We have five full-time biologists, all who graduated from Michigan State. The goal is to expand and have each run a different farm, allowing them to hire more graduates," he said. "Hopefully, this will continue to expand."

Still, he said one formula may not work for all aquaculture businesses. Each location may have unique circumstances. After spending a few hundred thousand dollars to scout locations, he said most he looked at wouldn't work for his initial plans. Hatcheries producing over a certain amount of fish also must have an approved National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and permit. Initial development and testing for that cost between $150,000 and $200,000, Ballow said.

"It's about a four-year process from the start to having the first product, so we are about four years ahead of anyone," he said. "But truthfully, we will buy all the fish they can grow. We can process and have the sales and distribution network, and we will offer our technology and biologists to get them off the ground.

"We are trying to encourage everyone to do it this way, and we are willing to help them."

The facilities operated by Vogler and Ballow represent two different approaches to aquaculture in the state. On one hand, Vogler and others, including the Michigan Farm Bureau, believe the state's natural resources – particularly the Great Lakes – make Michigan the ideal place to expand aquaculture. On the other hand, those concerned with environmental issues and ecology believe the state is ripe for expansion, but with a different set of practices and regulations that better protect our freshwater resources.

In Michigan, the aquaculture industry and state agencies are working together to grow the state's current industry into a major agriculture sector. In 2011, the aquaculture industry and the Michigan Quality of Life Departments (the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), the DEQ and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) created a road map to help aquaculture operators understand the regulatory process.

Michigan's State Veterinarian James Averill, who also serves as MDARD's Director of Animal Husbandry, said the state licenses aquaculture facilities and others raising stock for food or stocking for public waters. Currently, he said there are 55 such aquaculture facilities in Michigan, with two pending permitting.

For his part, Averill said the department considers the species being proposed to be raised to see they are approved under state law, how they are raising the fish, whether they are practicing proper biosecurity and other factors.

"When they get to a certain size, they need a NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit, and that's when they look at the environmental impact," he said.

"We have three different types of aquaculture," Averill said. "Those that flow through; then you have ponds, whether it's a big gravel quarry or a backyard pond, that are more times than not spring fed in some manner; and the third is the recirculating facility, those that are bringing in well water. That's where you have tilapia type systems. Those are the three major types in the state.

"When looking at recirculating systems, it's all contained there and the water stays in the system, so the impact to the environment is pretty minimal. With ponds or flowthrough, there is more potential there for the waste from the fish to get into the waterway, but some of that is beneficial for the ecosystem. But too much of a good thing can be bad, so it's a balance. That's where the DEQ comes in when trying to help that balance."

In addition to nutrient loading associated with fish waste, Averill said the spread of fish disease is possible, not only within the stock being raised, but within ecosystems downstream.

"As the state veterinarian, if it's severe enough, we can order those fish destroyed, and in doing so you are looking out for that ecosystem," he said. "There are approved treatments. As long as that producer is working with a vet and doing it an the approved rate, they are OK. The FDA is looking at the environmental toxicity. It's a limited number of products approved for use in aquaculture."

While each facility produce similar fish of arguably equal quality, how and where those fish are raised serve as the center of controversy in Michigan and the state's future role in aquaculture, the fastest growing area of food production in the world's quest to feed some 9.5 billion people by 2050.

Worldwide, aquaculture provides for more than half of the fish we consume, with about 85 to 90 percent of fish consumed in the United States being imported, according to the Michigan Aquaculture Association. While past aquaculture production in Michigan focused on fish for use as bait, pond stocking and fee fishing, the association believes the future growth of the state's aquaculture industry is in production of fish for human consumption.

"About 86 percent of aquaculture comes from Southeast Asia, and 60 percent comes from China, alone," Vogler said. "About one percent of global aquaculture comes from the United States. That could be dramatically expanded with Michigan."

The largest producer of rainbow trout in the world is Chile, where they are raised within large net cages, or net-pens, in the sea. In the United States, about three-quarters of rainbow trout production comes from Idaho. In all, the United States produces about seven percent of the world's trout, with about 15 percent of that exported.

Vogler said he hopes to see an expansion of aquaculture. However, efforts by some aquaculture proponents in the state, including the Michigan Farm Bureau, were thwarted last year, in part by an opinion published by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette that found aquaculture isn't legal in the state's Great Lakes under current law.

At the center of the issue is the desire to use "net-pen" farms, which would keep potentially hundreds of thousands of fish in underwater nets or solid-structure cages that function as pens within to raise fish. The pens are anchored to the bottom of the body water and may float near the shore or be located further off shore and reachable by boat.

Proponents of the facilities say Michigan's waters of the Great Lakes would provide an ideal location for such operations, and would do so with a small carbon footprint. They further claim expanding aquaculture could produce up to $100 million and 1,500 new jobs over the next decade, focusing on trout, shrimp and tilapia.

Opponents of expanding aquaculture to include net-pen farms say job and revenue productions are vastly overstated. Further, they say there are too many risks involved to open the Great Lakes to such operations. Those risks include waste produced by fish that could impact water quality and the ecosystem of the lakes, as well as the possibility of escapes of fish that could wreak havoc on existing habitat.

A push for expanding aquaculture in Michigan came in December of 2014, when two concept proposals for possible commercial net-pen operations came to the attention of the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development, Natural Resources and Environmental Quality. The plans included fisheries in northern Lake Michigan, near Escanaba in the Little and Big Bays de Noc in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and another for northern Lake Huron, in the lower peninsula in Lake Huron, near Alpena and Rogers City.

The push was the first from fish farmers to expand open net-pen facilities in Michigan's portion of the Great Lakes, while similar farms have been operating in northern Ontario in Lake Huron, in the Georgian Bay area, for more than two decades. Those include facilities operated by Coldwater Fisheries, which was planning to invest $1.2 million for farming and processing facilities.

To weigh the potential positive and negative impacts of the fish farms, the three state agencies, collectively referred to as the Quality of Life departments, formed a multi-agency panel to weigh in on the proposals. The panel released six reports, including one science-based review, one regulatory-based review, three economic-based reviews and one report focusing on stakeholder input.

The final conclusion published in March of 2016, was that the agencies didn't recommend pursuing commercial net-pen aquaculture.

"Given the ecological and environmental risks and uncertainties, as pointed out by the Science Panel and with further information provided through public input, commercial net-pen aquaculture would pose significant risks to fishery management and other types of recreation and tourism. Furthermore, both collaborating management interests and tribal nation interests would likely not agree to Michigan moving forward and pose a significant challenge in any attempts to do so," the panel stated in a final report. "The $3.3 million to implement a commercial net-pen aquaculture by the state to protect the public's interest in the Great Lakes and provide the stated expected service to the industry are not provided through any conventional funding models available to the QOL agencies. There would need to be a new funding stream identified for this industry effort to support initial costs as well as the $2.33 million needed annually to monitor and maintain the program and protection of the state's resources.

This level of public investment for an estimated return of $10 million (under the modeled scenarios for two facilities) does not appear to be a prudent use of the state's resources at this time."

Additionally, the panel found the regulatory authority doesn't currently exist to issue registrations for commercial aquaculture in the Great Lakes, a finding that was supported by an opinion given in January 2017, by the Michigan Attorney General.

"It is my opinion, therefore, that only operations that meet the definition of an 'aquaculture facility' under the Michigan Aquaculture Development Act may be registered to engage in aquaculture in the state of Michigan," the state attorney general wrote. "Under the Act, an aquaculture operation in the Michigan waters of the Great Lakes could not be registered to engage in aquaculture because the operation would not meet the current definition of an 'aquaculture facility' since Michigan waters of the Great Lakes are not 'privately controlled waters' as defined in the Act."

Further, the Quality of Life panel noted the DEQ must make a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting decision regardless of whether the agencies have the ability to license an aquaculture facility. Therefore, any policy regarding aquaculture must prevent preempting the DEQ's permitting process, which could result in litigation.

"While not recommending the pursuit of commercial net-pen aquaculture in the public waters of the Great Lakes, the state can and will continue to work within existing authorities to assist the industry in development of well-designed flow through, closed and recirculating aquaculture facilities."

Nick Schroek, director of clinical programs and associate professor at the University of Detroit Law School, said the inability to get a permit for a net-pen facility has a chilling effect on whether businesses will look to locate in Michigan.

"Being the Great Lakes are held in public trust, the legislature has the sole authority to make decisions about the Great Lakes, the bottomlands, and the lakes themselves," he said. "The use of the Great Lakes is sort of prohibited outside of traditionally accepted uses. Maybe someone could make an argument that aquaculture is part of that... that would start in the legislature."

Schroek is the former director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne State University, which represented the Sierra Club in the case filed against the DEQ's permitting process for Henrietta Hills Trout Farm.

Frank Krist, vice president of the Hammond Bay Area Anglers Association, located just north of Roger's City in northern Lake Michigan, said the proposed net-pen facilities in the Great Lakes drew attention from the anglers, but that interest has since dwindled.

"After the Quality of Life Departments issued their final recommendations against allowing Great Lakes Pen Aquaculture, the interest declined to very low levels," he said. "Currently, I'm not aware of any efforts to pursue the issue.

"There has been much interest over the operations of the aquaculture facility located in Grayling, however."

Vogler, who operates the Grayling facility, said he is being demonized by some anglers in the state who fear he could harm the river that flows through his fish farm operation. However, he claims there's no evidence the facility has caused any negative issues since he's been operating. And, while he said it's fair to compare net-pen facilities with his flow-through facility, both can and are operated in a way that can provide a benefit to the state.

And, although the Quality of Life Departments have made their recommendations, Vogler said he hopes the issue on net-pen aquaculture is revisited and opened in the state.

Under permits issued by the state to operate the facility, Vogler said he is able to produce 100,000 pounds of fish at any time, but hasn't gone beyond 70,000 pounds. Any production beyond that amount, he said, would require special filtration systems that would stop waste from fish food and fecal matter from entering the river. Currently, there's no waste capture measures, as approved by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Professor Jan Stevenson, with Michigan State University's Center for Water Studies, specializes in how ecological systems respond to environmental changes, such as nutrients from fish waste. His work has helped the state DEQ develop discharge standards in Michigan.

"If you add nutrients, or fish waste, one of the big issues is that you're bringing up masses of nutrients into a region where they weren't before. They have to go someplace, which is usually downstream or into a lake," he said. "This is a problem for all kinds of feeding operations, not just aquaculture, but also for chicken and other animals, and that spreads around the watershed."

While some degree of nutrients may not be harmful, Stevenson said too much can stimulate algal growth and bacteria, which need inorganic nutrients to grow.

"You also do something else, which is interesting, and kind of a threat," he said. "Many Michigan waters have low nutrient conditions, so when you add nutrients to inland waters, you relieve the species in that habitat competing for nutrients. Low nutrients are a natural stress, so adding more food or species that need nutrients, or even high nutrients, allow them to invade that habitat, and that allows algae to cause problems.

"The benefit can be that you get more fish. Often, you get an increase in nutrients and there are more invertebrates and more fish that eat smaller animals. But there are some species that look like they might be sensitive to nutrient concentrations, and those are game fish."

Stevenson said there tends to be a correlation between high nutrients, or phosphorus from fish feces, and negative effects on game fish, such as trout. High algae growth can also lead to aesthetic problems or harmful algae, such has been the case in southern portions of Lake Erie.

When considering the effects of net-pens and flow-through facilities on water quality and ecology, Stevenson said the concentration amount and how much those amounts are diluted come into play. When concentrations rise too much over the background nutrient levels of a waterbody, it may reach a tipping point and lead to negative effects. However, that tipping point depends on how much nutrients the water had to begin.

For instance, Stevenson said at about 20 to 25 micrograms per liter, you start seeing high or intermediate levels of algae that could be harmful to some fish species. If a wetland system already has a measurement of 35 micrograms per liter of water, then the tipping point is higher than water of say, northern Lake Michigan, which has nutrient levels closer to 10 micrograms per liter of water.

Ultimately, he said he doesn't believe there are any good spots in Michigan's Great Lakes that have low nutrient and cold water for trout where net-pen facilities would be prudent.

"I think the risk is too great in the Great Lakes. These are amazing places. We should wait until they can scientifically prove they aren't going to be a problem," he said.

Better yet, Stevenson said, it would be better to capture nutrients and repurpose them to grow algae that could be used for biofuels or other bi-products, uses he said Michigan State University is already exploring.

"It might not break a profit on some of the bi-products, but you're causing less damage to the system," he said. "Seldom is there a positive effect. When you do a total value check on the life cycle situation, it's probably cost effective to close that loop."

In addition to nutrients, net-pen facilities are breeding grounds for dangerous fish diseases, including whirling disease, which effects native fish species.

"They can accelerate the spread of disease within the net pen and around it," said Dan Eichinger, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which opposes net-pen facilities in the Great Lakes.

"We aren't anticipating any efforts made here between now and next calendar year, but we will always be on guard," Eichinger said. "These kinds of efforts, particularly when it concerns the Great Lakes, aren't going to decrease in number as time passes."

Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Trout Unlimited, which opposes net-pen facilities in Michigan, also said the push to expand net-pen facilities in the Great Lakes seems to have been too high of a hurdle to clear, but could re-emerge in the future.

"Canadian companies are still trying in Canada to expand," he said. "We found, essentially, that Ontario permitted about eight of them 20 or 30 years ago, and about four or six were still operating. At least one was closed for a violation."

Burroughs said permitting in Ontario has since been revamped and made new facilities more difficult to open.

Marc Gaden, a spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, said there are no plans in other states to open net-pen facilities in the Great Lakes. The commission operates a treaty between states and Canadian provinces bordering the Great Lakes. The treaty aims to have the states and provinces, along with tribal governments of each, work together to ensure the environmental health of the shared water resources.

"We have a responsibility to help them work together, and they agree that if they do anything that would have an effect they should talk about it within the context of the agreement," Gaden said of the commission. "We don't have the authority to license them yea or nay, but we do have the responsibility to find consensus in keeping each other informed from what is going on."

The chances of net-pen aquaculture to expand in the state will rely heavily on future legislatures, and whether they are willing to expand the state's law.

State Senator Rick Jones (R-Eaton) said while he's a supporter of aquaculture, he sponsored a bill in 2017 to prohibit any aquaculture facilities in the Great Lakes, or inland lakes or streams. The bill, which was co-sponsored by senators Steve Bieda (D-Warren), Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) and others, has failed to make it out of committee. A similar bill in the state House was introduced and also stalled in committee there.

"Aquaculture is a good thing for the state as long as it's done safely, inland and waste is captured and not put into a river or lake," Jones said. "It has a great future in Michigan. However, there were plans at one time to put giant nets out in the Great Lakes and put massive quantities of fish in them and that would have created a high concentration of poo in an area. That's a huge problem."

While Jones said neither bill is likely to move, there are no permits to be issued by the state to allow for such facilities. Whether that will change is up to future lawmakers.

"Personally, I hope it will be a dead issue," he said. "But there's always somebody that will bring it up again. 'Let's put a giant net fish farm on the Great Lakes.' I think it's that's a horrible idea."

Ernie Birchmeier, with the Michigan Farm Bureau, said the agency is supportive of regulations put in place that could potentially allow for aquaculture to move forward. While the net-pen issue is currently stalled, he said new leadership in the state may look at it differently.

"We watched and studied it closely. Unfortunately, it stalled out," he said of the efforts to open up net-pen facilities. "There's a tremendous amount of opportunity here, but we want to make sure we do it correct way." ­

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