Thank you to all that wrote to the MDNR regarding the New Zealand Mudsnail issue. If you did you likely received the following email from them in response.
If you have already read Mr. Dexter’s email and would like to see Pres. Baird’s response please scroll down.
November 14, 2016
James Dexter, Fisheries Chief
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
525 West Allegan
Lansing, MI 48933
Re: New Zealand Mudsnail Response – Au Sable River
Dear Chief Dexter:
I am writing in response to your recent email communication regarding New Zealand mudsnails in the Au Sable River. I write to offer several clarifications to the DNR and the other quality of life agencies. The Anglers of the Au Sable will go the extra mile to educate anglers and others about invasive species, wader washing and the importance of other measures. But in this case, we believe that the QOL group’s handling if the Grayling fish farm, especially the snail issue, has been woefully inadequate.
You used the term “hollow and disingenuous” to describe our expressions of concern and our calls for a strong and speedy response to the discovery of NZMS just downstream from the fish farm. Respectfully, we submit that the most hollow and disingenuous statement in this entire affair is to continue to claim that the state is vigorously protecting the Au Sable River. To review: 1) the DNR made this entire project possible when it illegally waived its right to enforce statutory use restrictions on the hatchery and allowed an industrial fish farm, 2) the DEQ issued a pollution discharge permit allowing the river to be used as the farm’s private sewer, 3) the DNR has openly acknowledged that low-tech aquaculture facilities like the Grayling fish farm are a prime threat for the spread of NZMS, but 4) when notified of discovery of the NZMS in the river, refused to inspect the fish farm and instead blamed anglers as the probable cause of the infestation.
In early June, a scientist we retain discovered NZMS in the East Branch of the Au Sable. He determined that the snails were directly below the fish farm – and only below the fish farm – not upstream, and not further downstream. Anyone can see that a possible source of the infestation was the fish farm. This was reported to DNR and DEQ immediately.
Standard operating procedure in such cases is to do an immediate survey to assess the source and extent of the infestation, and to determine if emergency measures can be deployed. We asked that you inspect the fish farm. You said the owner wouldn’t let you! We asked that you have the Attorney General obtain a warrant. To our dismay, you refused to do so, saying you wanted to “work with” the owner to find a “mutually agreeable third party” to survey the fish farm. In the end, that never happened, either. Months went by. The snails spread upstream and further downstream from the fish farm. It is now probably impossible to determine if the fish farm was the source of the snails, and it is impossible to treat the river to eradicate them. Four months later there was an inspection and, no surprise, NZMS were found in the facility.
Regarding your eagerness to blame wading anglers for the snails, we note the snails were only found directly below the fish farm. There is very little public access there. Very few, if any, anglers fish there. Have you considered how infinitesimally small the probability is that any angler 1) came to the Au Sable from another watershed, 2) which was already infested with NZMS, 3) which were on the angler’s waders, and 4) chose this inaccessible and deserted stretch of the East Branch as their best fishing location?
Worst, after all your protestations of concern for the waters of our state, you have concocted a scheme where the fish farm will be allowed to transport potentially infected fish for stocking in other waters The NZMS is asexual. It only takes one snail, in one fish, to start a new population. You say this protocol creates a “low likelihood” that the farm trout will forage on snails before shipment. We have been made aware of studies that show even recently fed fish may forage and ingest snails, and that using fresh water for transport might not work. Thus, there is a “definite likelihood” that fish will be shipped after ingesting snails.
Anglers of the Au Sable has built wader wash stations and distributed them to local shops. We have sent educational material to our members and posted it on the Internet. In cooperation with MGFCTU, we worked with our communications firm and biologists to draft, print and post signs warning of the dangers. Similar handouts were placed in local stores, too. This was all done in less than a week. In the meantime, has the DNR contacted local businesses, organizations and governmental agencies to warn of the problem and enlist their participation in educating the public?
We will always vigilantly protect the Au Sable River system. That is the reason we exist. We prefer, as always, to do so in full partnership with the DNR and other state agencies. We will also call it like we see it, back up our conclusions with science, and unfortunately and too often, fight tooth and nail against state agency decisions and actions which put the river at risk. This is one of those times. The DNR and other state agencies simply didn’t do the job on this one. You permitted an ill-conceived project in the finest trout stream east of the Mississippi, and then you dawdled in the face of a real threat. You only entered the fish farm when the owner “invited” you to do so. What kind of vigilance is that? The state can claim that it will “do all it can” to preserve the Au Sable as a “natural resources jewel,” but its actions in this instance are to the contrary.
Thomas A Baird, President
Anglers of the Au Sable