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Ban harmful fish-farming practices in Great Lakes, Michigan's wild rivers

March 17, 2017
In The News

Ban harmful fish-farming practices in Great Lakes, Michigan's wild rivers

Like many Michiganders, I have fond memories of spending time on the Great Lakes. As a child, my family would go up north to Traverse City or East Tawas, and as a parent, I took my children to the Keweenaw Peninsula. Sometimes we went out on a boat; other times we simply threw a line off the dock. Thinking back, there was rarely a year that we didn't spend on Michigan's beautiful water.

The Great Lakes and Michigan's pristine rivers have a special place in our hearts and our economy. Our water is precious and is part of our way of life. And that's why we as Michiganders have always stood together to protect the Great Lakes and state waters from harm.

Whether it's protecting against invasive species like Asian carp, or fighting a plan by Canada to store nuclear waste on the shores of Lake Huron, I have always been outspoken when it comes to Great Lakes protections. And that's why today I have great concerns about an emerging threat to Michigan's water that we must act on.

Right now, there are proposals to expand aquaculture -- commercial fish farming in rivers, lakes and waterways -- in Michigan. In Grayling, a for-profit aquaculture facility is attempting to get a new permit through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to expand its commercial fish farming operation 15 times its current size in water leading to the Au Sable River. This expansion threatens Michigan's waters and our multibillion-dollar economy tied to the Great Lakes.

Similar facilities have increased pollution in other communities, destroying sensitive fish habitats, spreading disease and introducing non-native species. Sadly, this has already happened in other parts of the country. In Pennsylvania, an aquaculture facility on Big Spring Creek -- once a famous trout stream -- collapsed the river's fishing industry.

This is especially alarming on the Au Sable River, one of Michigan's 16 federally designated "Wild and Scenic Rivers." Rivers like the Au Sable have this special designation for a reason -- they are outstanding natural resources with sensitive ecosystems that can be adversely affected by pollution or the introduction of outside species.

And that's what is so concerning about the expansion of aquaculture in Michigan. If not done properly, it could threaten Michigan's waters and our state's existing sport fishing industry, a nearly $4 billion business that already supports tens of thousands of jobs.

In Congress, I introduced two pieces of legislation to ban harmful aquaculture practices in our waters. Taken together, both bills would ban aquaculture in the Great Lakes (H.R. 961)  and in Wild and Scenic Rivers (H.R. 962) like the Au Sable unless it can be proven that it does not pollute the surrounding ecosystem.

Michiganders overwhelmingly agree that we should protect our waters from aquaculture. A recent poll found that 68 percent of Michiganders oppose aquaculture in the Great Lakes. Many conservation and environmental groups also are in favor of my legislation, including the Anglers of the Au Sable, Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

Thankfully, protecting our waters isn't a partisan issue. Republicans in the State Legislature have supported banning harmful aquaculture. But many states border the Great Lakes - not just Michigan - and we cannot rely on a patchwork of state laws to protect our waters. Congress must also act, and since the federal government currently designates rivers like the Au Sable to be unique habitats, it's our responsibility to ensure they are protected.

Our freshwater supply is too important to us as Michiganders to be jeopardized by this latest threat. I want all of our children, and our children's children, to have the same fond memories I do of Michigan summers spent on the water. We must act now to protect our precious water from harm.