EVANSVILLE—The United Fish and Game Clubs of Manitoulin (UFGCM) are hoping that by using the same fish-raising technology currently in use at an underground fish hatchery project at a Vale mine in Sudbury, it will be able to start a similar project here on the Island.
Through a partnership with the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association (NOAA), the UFGCM believes it can launch a pilot project in Lake Mindemoya.
“The system is small enough that it can put in a basement,” Mike Meeker explained at an UFGCM meeting earlier this month. “The incredible thing about this system is that fish can be raised in troughs and then transferred to small cage-nets. So you can raise, say, 10,000 fish in a small place up to a few grams in size and then put them in the nets. This can be done in any water body.”
Mr. Meeker said he could picture “every lake on the Island with a group raising fish.”
As reported in last week’s edition of the Recorder, NOAA has partnered with Vale in the development of a pilot project: an underground fish hatchery, the first of its kind in the world, that will benefit the fish ecosystem in Sudbury-area lakes. The system design and technology being used for the Vale project could potentially be used to develop small community fish hatcheries on Manitoulin Island.
“It is very doable, not expensive or hard to run,” Mr. Meeker stated. “It provides an efficient way of doing things and supports the fishery.”
He went on to explain the process. Fish are raised in two six-feet in diameter. The fish are then transferred to area lakes. Mr. Meeker noted the process could also be used for small community hatcheries, with the fish raised in the troughs indoors and the fish, of any species, could then be transferred to one or two small cage-nets to grow to stocking size and then released in the lake they have raised in.
Mr. Meeker explained, “ the technology is there for these small community hatcheries to be developed. The experimental lake assessment projects we (NOAA) have taken part in, supervised by fisheries scientists and biologists, has shown that when you put these cages in a lake, it actually improved fish habitat in fact everything improves.”
“For example, say you want to stock pickerel in Mindemoya. You could first grow them in the small hatchery troughs, and then transfer them to small cages in a lake, where they will be raised and then released,” said Mr. Meeker. “The fish will already be acclimated to the water. If they grow to six inches, their survival rate goes from two percent to 90 percent survival. It is a program that local clubs can do easily.”
Mr. Meeker has attended two meetings with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) and Natural Resources representatives who are in definitely in favour of the program.
“The big thing is it can be done easily, without the need for much money. At Vale, there is one lady who spends a couple of hours a day in the hatchery,” Mr. Meeker said. “This process could be used in any community-lake. There are always enough capable people in the fish and game clubs to implement the program, and what it does is giving every community on the island, on every lake, the ability to raise and stock their own fish.”
He pointed out the program being developed at Vale is costing the mining company $10,000, but said he believes that by using local knowledge, the cost of putting the system could be developed for much
“Vale is raising 5,000 rainbow trout to start at 50 grams each, but pickerel is one of their goals to raise fish,” he said. Mr. Meeker noted that while this year, Vale’s project is being housed in a surface mine, it will eventually be located close to 5,000 feet underground. At that depth, the mine will be about 20 degrees Celsius at all times of the year—an optimal temperature for raising fish. “Vale is raising trees underground as well and have access to lighting and power at all times.”
Mr. Meeker said each club could make sure a specific fish is being raised for the lake in their area. “Your club can guarantee the fish you are raising is not going all over the place. If you want to raise a certain species of fish in Lake Mindemoya, you can do this, while another group could be raising a different type of fish in Kagawong.”
As for getting permits to raise the fish, Mr. Meeker said there has been a shift in favour of this type of program within the higher levels of the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the OFAH is pushing for this new technology to be implemented.
“Ed Tear, the MNR manager in Sudbury, is definitely in support of this program,” Mr. Meeker said. “It is very important to keep in mind we are not talking about or cutting out the MNR. We need to work cooperatively with them and get approvals for this program, but so far their reps have been in favour of what we are proposing. Vale for instance is going to raise fish and work with the MNR as to where they are going to be stocked.”
John Seabrook, who was at the meeting, proposed the UFGCM should propose a pilot project be launched in Lake Mindemoya first, before considering other lakes.
Jim Sloss, chair of the UFGCM, suggested the club should also apply for capital funding for the equipment necessary for the project. “I can certainly see a whole host of possibilities with the pilot project Mike (Meeker) has outlined. Maybe we should put together a small group and meet to discuss this further.”
The club members agreed Lake Mindemoya would be a great place to start a pilot project and will hold a meeting in the near future to discuss the proposal and the steps needed to hopefully get the project started in the spring.
“The program has received support from Ed Tear of the MNR Sudbury office as an effective way to grow fish, in an environmentally sound, accountable way,” said Mr. Meeker. “He said there are about 30-31 ongoing community fisheries improvement programs (CFIP) in place in the Sudbury area, and he said he would support us doing similar projects here on the Island.”