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USA - Sport fishing group wins legal battle, forces out hatchery

GRAYLING — A family owned fish farming company began to move its rainbow trout out of the raceways at Grayling Fish Hatchery after it recently conceded defeat in a lawsuit that targeted the fish-rearing operation on the revered Au Sable River. A four-year legal battle between Harrietta Hills Trout Farm LLC and a nonprofit sport fishing group concluded last week when the company agreed in a mediated settlement to sell its lease with Crawford County for $160,000 to Anglers of the Au Sable. According to the settlement, the nonprofit group will operate the hatchery as a tourism and educational attraction, and while visitors will be allowed to visit and feed trout, no commercial fish farming will happen there.

When the business started in 2012, it planned to produce upward of 300,000 pounds of rainbow trout per year, up from the approximate 70,000 pounds at present. The operation obtained a state permit but was tied up in court by the Anglers group, which argued the aquaculture project would pollute the river and harm native trout.

“We had no fear that scientifically, we are right,” said Dan Vogler, owner of Harrietta Hills. “We were simply trying to use a facility already on the landscape.”

According to the company's website, their farming practices are Environmentaly verified under the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP).

Vogler said he is disappointed but decided continuing the hatchery’s operation wasn’t worth the cost of fighting two opposition lawsuits. The settlement will be “almost enough” to cover his legal fees.

Harrietta Hills must vacate the hatchery in Grayling by year’s end, according to the settlement. The company maintains a separate aquaculture facility in Wexford County.

“It’s a really exciting new chapter in the history and life of the Grayling hatchery,” said Joe Hemming, president of the Anglers group, who described the proposed fish farm as “one of the most serious threats that the river has ever seen.” Opponents contend expansion of the hatchery’s operation would send large volumes of feces and uneaten fish food into the river, potentially exposing wild fish to illness and boosted phosphorus levels.

[Source: Traverse City Record Eagle. Read more]