Anglers of the AuSable start planning to take over Grayling Fish Hatchery operations
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Anglers of the AuSable, a Michigan nonprofit corporation which has been working to protect and preserve the river for over three decades, is eagerly planning to take over operations of the Grayling Fish Hatchery.
Joe Hemming, president of the Anglers of the AuSable, made an introduction and gave an update on plans to operate the landmark hatchery on behalf of the Crawford County Board at its meeting held on Thursday, Nov. 8.
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners, on Sept. 27, approved an assignment and assumption of lease agreement for the historic property.
Effective Jan. 1, 2019 the lease held by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm, LLC, a Michigan limited liability company, will be transferred to the Anglers of the AuSable.
The Anglers of the AuSable were engaged in a lawsuit against Harrietta Hills Trout Farm, LLC, over plans to expand production at the fish hatchery up to 300,000 pounds per year.
In May 2012, Dan Vogler, the co-owner of the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm LLC, and the Crawford County Board of Commissioners entered into a contract for the operation of the Grayling Fish Hatchery to keep the 104-year-old community attraction open to local residents and tourists.
The Anglers argued that the increased effluent from the hatchery would pose harm to the wild trout population and degrade the water quality.
Crawford County and those involved in the litigation were parties of a binding agreement from a facilitative mediation dated Sept. 19, pursuant to which the Anglers have agreed to assume all of Harrietta Hills Trout Farm’s interest and obligations as tenant under the lease.
Instead of incurring more legal costs, all three parties to the lease approved the agreement. The Anglers of the AuSable will pay the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm, LLC $160,000 to walk away from the operation.
Hemming told the board last week that Vogler has vacated the facility.
“It’s a new chapter for the hatchery,” he said. “We’re certainly looking forward to partnering with the county and making this just a premier facility for the public and the county.”
The agreement secures the interests of the Anglers of the AuSable and prevents another fish farmer from potentially leasing the facility.
The Anglers plan to have brook, brown, and rainbow trout at the hatchery. There is also the possibly of having arctic grayling in the raceways, a fish which has been extinct from the river since the lumbering era in the late 1880s.
“We think that would be particularly exciting since the city is named after the fish,” Hemming said.
The Anglers also hope to clear a sand trap located above the hatchery and to fill the area in fish cover. That would provide an area for youth to learn how to fly fish.
“It would be a wonderful place for kids to go fishing,” Hemming said.
Crawford County Commissioner Rick Anderson was encouraged about the potential to provide recreational opportunities and fly-fishing classes for the youth.
“You could basically put those events on there, and teach our youth how to fend for themselves,” Anderson said.
Hemming said youth fly fishing would not be a conflict with kids who swim in the river above the hatchery.
“It think the two can co-exist,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an either or.”
Hemming said the Anglers were in the process of getting insurance for the facility and hiring a fish hatchery manager. He added that the group would work with faculty and students from Lake Superior State University and Michigan State University for consulting and help operating the facility. Previously, the Anglers have provided scholarships to those educational institutions.
“We really want to make this an educational facility,” Hemming said.
The Anglers of the AuSable will reinvest in plans to achieve fish passage between the main river and the upper East Branch, which is currently blocked by the Grayling Fish Hatchery.
The fish passage would allow trout to migrate to cool water refuge, to spawn, and to diversify gene pools.
County Commissioner Sharon Priebe raised the concern about spreading whirling disease in the river system.
Hemming acknowledged that the parasite for whirling disease exists in the river. However, the worm, which can potentially kill wild trout, has not been found locally.
Hemming added that the group’s main concern with whirling disease was due to the increased effluent coming from the fish farm as production expanded.
“Hopefully, we cut that off at the pass now that the effluent won’t be released from the hatchery,” Hemming said.
Hemming said it is best to keep the nutrient level sparse in the river when asked about septic systems tainting the water and other changes with the river.
“You have to be careful with that delicate balance and not throw it out of whack,” he said.
Priebe inquired if the Anglers would come back to the county board to ask for money to help operate the fish hatchery.
Before entering into the contract with Vogler, the Grayling Recreation Authority informed county officials that it no longer wanted to oversee fish hatchery operations because it was a financial loss.
Hemming said that admission fees, hopeful increased numbers of visitors to the facility, and anxious donors will help fund the operation.
“We would not come here asking for money from the county,” Hemming said.
Dave Stephenson, the chairman of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, said the reason the fish passage was pulled was there was no guarantee it would not cause flooding due to a heavy rain or a spring thaw.
“That has always been our focus,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson also raised the possibility of the Anglers working in conjuction with Grayling High School students to use the former hatchery building as a business incubator.
“That would give the students an opportunity to see how a business runs and for them to run it,” Stephenson said.
The hatchery building is not part of the lease to operate the hatchery. However, Hemming and inspectors planned to tour the building last week.
Several years ago, the building was upgraded with grant funds from the state.
“I’m not aware of any issues with the building other than it’s empty,” Stephenson said.
Hemming added the events for the City of Grayling and the county could be hosted at the hatchery. He was particularly encouraged to push youth fishing on a river that people come from throughout the world to fly fish.
“To have a child that grows up here to have this treasure in their backyard, it would be wonderful to see them all fly fish,” he said.
Hemming said the Anglers hoped to winterize the plumbing in buildings on the property. The group also wants to walk through the facility to gather what items are needed for the Memorial Day opening of the hatchery.
Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo asked that any requests regarding the property go through him until the lease goes into effect with the Anglers on Jan. 1.
Hemming said the payment to Vogler to step away from the hatchery is still pending.