Updated February 3, 2017:
An administrative law judge has proposed that a Grayling fish farm keep the permit that is allowing it to expand along the Au Sable River.
Harrietta Hills Trout Farm would be able to produce up to 300,000 pounds of rainbow trout per year at the Grayling Fish Hatchery.
The fish farm was granted its permit to expand production in 2014, but the permit was appealed by Anglers of the Au Sable and the Sierra Club.
Harrietta Hills Trout Farm has leased the Grayling Fish Hatchery from Crawford County since 2012. It raised 68,000 pounds of fish there in 2016.
The company also runs a trout farm in Wexford County along a tributary of the Manistee River.
“Our objective is to produce healthy, fresh, local seafood for people to eat in Michigan," says Dan Vogler, a co-owner of Harrietta Hills Trout Farm.
Opponents have tried to stop the company from expanding.
Tom Baird, the president of Anglers of the Au Sable, says fish farming will pollute the river with fish feces, fish food and any trout that escape.
“We were quite disappointed with the proposed decision,” Baird says, “and will be filing exceptions with [the state Department of Environmental Quality] to reject the proposal and the permit itself.”
The Grayling Fish Hatchery is a flow-through facility. Water from the Au Sable River is diverted into several channels, called raceways, where trout are raised. Water from the channels flows back into the river.
On Wednesday, Administrative Law Judge Daniel Pulter issued a ‘proposal for decision’ that supports the DEQ's permit.
The judge did propose two slight modifications to the permit. One would require additional testing for pollutants, and the second would require the company to add ‘quiescent zones’ where fish waste can be vacuumed out of the water.
Now the DEQ director will decide what to do with the permit.
Vogler says the company has high environmental standards.
“Contrary to popular belief, we’re not bloodthirsty savages that are looking to rape and pillage the river,” Vogler says. “That’s ridiculous.”
Opponents plan to challenge the judge’s proposal for decision.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the Grayling Fish Hatchery's permit had been put on hold while the judge considered the appeal. The permit was still in effect while the administrative law judge considered the appeal to the permit. Dan Vogler says the company raised 68,000 pounds of fish at the site last year.