INTRO: Algae has become a threat to Lake Erie. It’s also a threat to Lake Michigan, even up north. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus visited a fishery in the UP. He finds a big catch but fishermen’s fear that their livlihood is coming to an end.
When you lie on the beach at the top of Lake Michigan you are facing south. You’re near the town of Naubinway in the eastern Upper Peninsula. King’s Fish Market is at the end of the point near a harbor. Workers gut, scale, chop and hose down fish in a refrigerated warehouse. This worker is satisfied.
“Today is really good. It’s been a very good day of fishing today. The past week has been excellent actually. The weather has been cool. The fish have been moving a lot more.”
King’s Fishery sends out three boats a day. Each boat can pull in two tons of Salmon, Lake Trout, White Fish and Walleye. They sell it for $5 a pound. Workers are stamping boxes that say King’s Fish/50 Trout. Tourists can drive into the warehouse off of US 2 Highway. But most of the fish gets carried away by semi-truck. During Jewish holidays it sells for more than $20 a pound. Ken King stands inside the truck bed. He runs the family business.
“Part of it is the supply. There hasn’t been enough product to keep everybody satisfied. So everybody’s fighting for what little product is available,” King said.
“Where are these(boxes of fish) going?” McCarus asked.
“Most of them are going to New York. But we’ve got Chicago and a little bit all over. Trying to keep everybody satisfied.”
Ken King is Ojibwa. In the 1970’s federal courts allowed Indians to continue to use gill nets. Non-Indians can’t use them. This gives King an upper hand. But his commercial operation is one of only 4 left on northern Lake Michigan. Algae has been getting caught in the nets in the last couple years.
“When you put the net in the water it used to be that the net would catch the fish. Now because this algae is in the water so thick it attaches to the nets and the nets will lay down and you went through that work for nothing.”
King wouldn’t say what his profits are. But these are his weekly expenses:
“At least $3,000 per boat just in payroll not counting the fuel and the fuel at $4 a gallon under gait we’re looking at 20 gallons an hour. It adds up fast.”
King can’t control his costs. And the algae is taking control of his nets. The nets to be at the level where the fish are.
“You gotta make these nets count when you put them in the water. They’re designed to produce so if they’re not producing we’re not making money and we won’t be around to continue doing this.”
Bob King turned the family business over to his son Ken years ago. But he’s seen the algae too.
“Oh yes. That’s awful. I’ve seen them set a net one day and have to pull it the next because the slime was bad. And that costs money to run out there, set a net and not get anything.”
Great Lakes researchers meet by the dozens every couple months to figure out how to stop the slime. Lois Wolfson is an ecologist at Michigan State University’s Institute for Water Research. She says there are several reasons why algae is growing.
“Phosphorous even in small amounts can cause excessive growth… not as much up north as we’re seeing in Lake Erie, but also the increased light because of zebra mussels clearing the water, not cleaning the water, and also the warmer temperatures and the lower lake levels. So all of these contribute to excessive plant growth.”
Fresh fish to buy on the side of the road for $5 and sell to New Yorkers for $20 sounds great. But this good deal for Michigan might not last.