02/24/2016  My memories seem to come into focus with the first couple good days of streamer fishing.  Ahhh — that’s when the season started.  But memory never serves.  Rarely well, anyway.  Spring comes in fits in starts.  From 40-something degrees yesterday to state-wide blizzard today, and back to 40-something on Saturday.  But the warm days stay warm longer, and the shadows creep later, and the trout chase further.  This past week was a pretty darn good one on the river.

Corey came up to finish the catalog and sneak in some successful nymph fishing with Denny and Jordan.  Pels, Beebs, and Lance floated a quick one:

160224_PelsAndrew W. found “slower than I thought it would be fishing” despite the trout pic he attached to the email, Verlac and Julie Z. had an adventure in the longboat but ended up finding a nice trout that got smooched by Scout at the top of the report, and yesterday Matt and I hurried in a quick float from the lodge down to Wakeley.

Spring is coming.  Nevermind the current snowfall.  It’s coming:

160224_scenic

And I think it’s going to arrive early this year, and with bells on its feet and hendricksons in its hair.  As has been the case all spring, the trout numbers seem up over the last two years.  We moved quite a few fish between 8 and 12 inches, a few “teeners” and landed two really big ones…one right in front of Room 8 on the third cast of the float, and one halfway through, that had a nice set of chompers:

160224_hook

The water was clear and the copper Circus Peanut moved the most, followed by a light olive wedgehead.  We fished pretty big flies, but considering the number of smaller fish that wouldn’t eat…it would seem that the higher water temperatures had more fish willing to chase smaller flies.  That’s a good sign.

We didn’t stop and nymph but could have.  We didn’t stop and work a good run…perhaps we should have.  So much of this becomes routine.  Too much of it.  I feel an adventure next week if the stars align and the weather holds.  A kayak or ski-in to some formerly ice-locked water.

Somewhere near the end of the short float, one of us remarked that this was the first spring day of fishing.  Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t.  Maybe it was two weeks ago.  But it felt like it, with the snow retreating from the banks, the trout scattering from holding lies, the lack of gloves, the long fading sunset.

160224_scenic1

The snow won’t be deep this weekend — we got a smidgen of what we were supposed to — and the weather looks great.  If you like chucking streamers or nymph fishing a quiet river, or hiking, skiing or snowshoeing into your own secluded slice of water…this Saturday wouldn’t be such a bad day to try it.

Spring is coming, and with it the promise of a new season.  We have expanded the number of events, schools, fly tying classes, and other exciting events for 2016.  Check out our series of can’t miss classes with Alex Lafkas, Mark Hendricks, George Daniel and John Sheets.  We have been tweaking these schools for five years and are ready to offer a truly diverse class schedule.  Also check out our can’t-miss outdoor dining events at the restaurant, demo days, and so on.  For a full list of what we have to offer in 2016, here is the  link: http://www.gateslodge.com/events/.  Call or email to sign-up!

Make sure you join our email list (sign-up is near bottom of page: www.gateslodge.com) and sign up for our spring catalog (below):

Sign up for our spring catalog!  If you received our fall/winter catalog, then you’re already on the list.  If you didn’t, and want in, email me your mailing address, and I’ll make sure you get one.  It costs nothing, and will have gear reviews, our 2016 spring/summer catalog of events — including a new line of fly fishing schools and fly tying workshops, and enough fishing stuff to get you revved up for the next season.

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We’re entering our second week of testimony on the fish farm case.  Updates will be forthcoming, but here is the update from week #1 (sorry about the formatting issue):

To receive more updates like this, please join at www.ausableanglers.org.  There’s lots more to go, and more help is needed.  

The hearing contesting the fish farm pollution permit for the Grayling fish farm started Monday, February 8, and continued through Friday. It was packed with important witnesses, and ended on a high note. But it isn’t over yet – we have seven more days of hearing scheduled into early March. This special edition of Flow is to help keep you up to date as the trial progresses.

 

The witnesses basically testified about the contents of the permit, fish hatchery science and technology, water pollution and fish diseases. Future witnesses will expand on that testimony, and will also address damages to the river, to the fishery, to local business and the local economy, and to property values and tax revenues.

DEQ Witnesses

The first witnesses were employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). They testified about their role in issuing the permit, and their rationales for including weak standards for phosphorus and suspended solids (fish food and feces), omitting standards for other pollutants (including ammonia), also omitting a standard for dissolved oxygen, allowing an insufficient water quality and disease monitoring program, failing to require a meaningful waste water treatment system, and denying our request for a performance bond.

 

The DEQ admitted that when the fish farm discharges effluent at the maximum levels allowed by the permit, the fish farm will emit 160,000 pounds of fish poop and uneaten fish food, and 1,600 pounds of phosphorus per year. ** Without getting into detail, suffice it to say the DEQ testimony was weak. It reminded me of what the Flint Water Advisory Task Force said about the DEQ’s performance there: “Minimalist,” willing to accept mere “technical compliance” to protect the public, dismissive of others who raise concerns, and wrong in its interpretation of the law.

 

DNR Witnesses

 

After that, the testimony picked up considerably. Two Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division employees testified. Ed Eisch is the director of fish hatcheries for the DNR. Gary Whelan is currently the director of fisheries research. Among other things, Gary, and now Ed, managed the Platte River State Fish Hatchery. Gary was instrumental in settling the litigation brought by Platte Lake property owners over pollution from the steelhead and salmon rearing activities there.

 

Ed Eisch testified that there are wastewater treatment technologies far superior to what is being proposed for Grayling, such as those at the Platte River facility, which he described in detail. He said a similar wastewater treatment system would be ideal for the Grayling fish farm. Gary confirmed Ed’s testimony, and he also discussed the problems caused by domesticated hatchery fish and creation of breeding grounds for disease downstream. He also mentioned the problems other states have experienced, such as the destruction of the wild brook trout fishery at Big Spring, Pennsylvania, and the spread of whirling disease from fish farms in Idaho.

Angler’s Initial Witness, Dr. Ray Canale

Finally, our expert environmental engineer, Dr. Ray Canale, testified at length. Dr. Canale is a professor emeritus from the University of Michigan. His field is environmental engineering, and he has researched and written extensively about modeling the effects of fish hatchery pollution on the water quality of downstream waters. As a court appointed monitor, Dr. Canale coordinated the improvements that were required at the Platte River hatchery.

 

Dr. Canale first described the sources of the data he had used in the study of the Grayling fish farm and the Au Sable River. It included DNR studies and reports, USGS gauging station records, data on water quality gathered by Anglers of the Au Sable and MGTU, and numerous scholarly works. In addition, Dr. Canale just wrote a peer reviewed paper on hatchery effluent modeling with Dr. Stephen Chapra of Tufts University, which will be published in the 50thAnniversary Edition of the Journal of Environmental Engineering. It uses the Au Sable River as the vehicle for a discussion of their modeling techniques, which was perfect for the hearing.

 

Dr. Canale went on to describe the relevant parameters of the Au Sable River as it exists today, i.e., the baseline condition. This involved the chemical constituents of the water, flow, temperature, diurnal variations, various inputs (such as the North and South Branches), and related data down to Mio. Importantly, he testified that the DEQ’s data was wrong, its sampling of phosphorous was statistically insignificant, its laboratory does not have sufficient protocols to accurately measure low levels of phosphorous, and its analysis does not conform to the law. Dr. Canale found it extremely important to note that the river is often very close to the designated minimums for dissolved oxygen, and that it regularly violates dissolved oxygen standards.  Dissolved oxygen standards are established to protect the fishery in the Au Sable and other cold water fisheries.

 

Finally, Dr. Canale applied his new model to the Au Sable River, and then assessed the effects the fish farm would have under various scenarios. His testimony and exhibits were stunning. He found that, even without the Grayling fish farm, the river violates oxygen standards. He said that, even if the fish farm performs the best possible treatment of its fish poop and feeding, the river will continue to violate dissolved oxygen standards. Finally, he said that, during low flows (summer drought conditions), if the fish farm were at maximum production with no treatment, oxygen standards at Stephan Bridge would be violated 98% of the time!

 

In concluding their testimony, Ed Eisch, Gary Whelan and Dr. Canale were clear, concise and consistent. Ed Eisch testified that the goal of hatchery management should be an environmentally neutral operation, and that the technology exists to achieve that goal. Gary Whelan testified that hatchery effluent discharges should be near background levels. Dr. Canale testified that hatchery discharges should be zero, or else additional violations of water quality standards will occur and increase. His findings regarding dissolved oxygen levels at Stephan Bridge were particularly alarming. Gary Whelan was asked if the current DEQ permit is sufficient to protect the river. His answer was short, sweet and to the point: “No.”

 

The hearing will resume on February 24. We will present our biology and economic experts, who will show the increase in algae already occurring downstream from the fish farm, the increased threat of disease, and the devastating damage to the Au Sable River economy and property values which will occur if the fish farm continues to pollute the river. We may also find out how much the fish farm is now producing, so we can more accurately assess the damage which is occurring right now.

 

We will provide you with updates as they become available. As always, thank you for your continued support. The river needs our help and protection like never before.

 

Tom Baird

President

** These numbers assume the fish farm stays within the pollution limits contained in the permit. By comparison, if the facility ramps up production to 300,000 pounds of fish per year, as proposed by the owners, it is estimated that every year it will produce raw loads (before treatment, if any) of 3,540 pounds of phosphorous, and 217,234 pounds of suspended solids, mostly fish feces and uneaten fish food.

 

The Anglers Mission Statement: 

To preserve, protect and enhance the Au Sable River System for future generations of fly fishers. 

The Anglers of the Au Sable is much more than a fishing club. Our activities are driven by issues affecting the greater Au Sable ecosystem.

Anglers Address:

Anglers of the Au Sable

P.O. Box 200

Grayling, MI 49738

for information contact:
[email protected]

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