Anglers of the Au Sable given permission to improve habitat for fish at hatchery
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners approved a plan to remove structures from the historic Grayling Fish Hatchery to improve habitat in the facility and for areas reaching downstream on the river.
The board, at its regular monthly meeting held on Thursday, July 28, unanimously gave the go ahead to remove two walkways on the north side of the facility. The walkways are basically cement slabs, which go over the water.
Joe Hemming, the president of the Anglers of the Au Sable, requested to remove the structures last month.
The reason for removal of the walkways is sand that came into the hatchery when the bridge over the AuSable River on North Down River Road was replaced in 2016.
Hemming said the angling and conservation group will seek bids for removal of the sand. He said it would be more convenient and less costly to remove the sand with an excavator rather than by hand once the walkways were removed.
“They don’t serve any purpose,” Hemming said.
Effective Jan. 1, 2019 the lease held by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm, LLC, a Michigan limited liability company, was transferred to the Anglers of the Au Sable, a Michigan nonprofit corporation.
The agreement ended a four-year legal battle over plans to establish a huge fish farming operation at the hatchery.
The Anglers of the Au Sable paid the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm, LLC $160,000 to walk away from the operation.
Hemming said the group is having success trying to protect the river and make the hatchery a recreational and educational facility though its partnership with the county.
The hatchery was opened for its traditional start on Memorial Day.
“We were ready,” Hemming said.
Austin Wenke, of Kalamazoo, was hired to serve as the fish hatchery manager. He is a 2016 graduate from Lake Superior State College, where he studies fisheries.
“There is plenty of potential as time goes by for improvement and we’re striving to improve every day,” Hemming said.
Hemming said that the hatchery opened with usual expenses for insurance, fish, fish food, and payroll. One unexpected expense, however, were large deposits of sand which came into the hatchery in previous months.
“The amount of water that flowed through the hatchery in the winter time deposited a large amount of sand in the hatchery and that’s going to cost thousands of dollars to remove and we’re working on that issue,” Hemming said.
Most of the sand filled in raceways on the west and middle runways at the facility.
Wenke said the water flow through the hatchery will be blocked at the end of the season following Labor Day. That will allow time for the sand to be removed and to make sure the problem does not reoccur.
One positive aspect of having the sand there created an opportunity for a turtle habitat in one raceway.
“That’s been a big hit with the public and with the kids,” Hemming said.
Wenke plans on soon adding a frog habitat into a fenced structure in the same raceway.
Brook, brown, and rainbow trout are being reared in the main raceways at the hatchery. The traditional raceway for the catch your dinner program is also available for anglers along with fishing poles and nets.
Quiescent zones, which filter uneaten fish food and fish feces from the water, were installed at the hatchery to improve habitat downstream from the facility.
As of last week, Hemming said the hatchery has drawn in 4,000 visitors.
“It seems to have been a very, very positive experience,” he said.
Hemming welcomed county officials to tour the hatchery and said the Anglers are open to any suggestions.
“We’re looking forward to growing this partnership with you and doing all the right things to really make this a special facility,” Hemming said.
County Commissioner Sharon Priebe, who visited the hatchery prior to the meeting last week, suggested putting down concrete paths where gravel and grass walkways now exist to make more remote areas of hatchery more accessible.
“That’s quite lovely over there and it’s very well done and it would be nice if handicapped people could get there,” Priebe said.