A few weeks ago, my wife Renee’ and I took a trip to Shepherd Montana, headquarters of Floating Island International Inc. We had been invited to stay on the ranch and to see for ourselves how Bruce Kania and his wife Anne, are growing huge fish fast with a woven matrix of inert substrates called BioHaven, or Floating Treatment Wetlands. I had been in contact with Bruce for some time, learning about how excessive nutrients brought in from runoff can be turned into fresh, tasty fish. Not only do the Kania’s grow fish, but frogs, minnows, pheasant, deer and all species of waterfowl prosper in their efforts. Even Yellowstone cutthroat trout flourish in this superior environment, along with crappie and perch and various minnows.
The setting was breathtaking, Mule deer and whitetail browsing on the thousands of perennial plants Bruce has planted for their benefit and soil stability. Over time these plants die off and return each spring, contributing to the rich organic soils being built up. Sprawling channels and wetlands run throughout the property, slowly beginning to filter and absorb the high levels of nutrients. When the water enters the property, it is dark and cloudy like chocolate.
Ducks of all varieties, geese, snipe, vulture, pheasant and more, have taken up residency in this oasis of prime habitat, with no intention of ever leaving. With Bruce being a veteran trapper, predators are being kept in check, protecting the desired species. With the Yellowstone River along one property line, this place is an outdoorsman’s paradise.
Stewardship of our natural resources is the core of the work being undertaken at Shepherd Ranch. We were there to catch and eat a bunch of these fish, helping them ultimately remove the phosphorus and nitrogen that causes excessive weed growth and poor water quality. Bruce and I dreamed big about someday soon, this concept of abundant, mass fish harvest to clean our Nation’s waters and beyond.
The data shows that over 50% of our Nation’s waterways are considered eutrophic and in trouble, meaning highly excessive weed growth and nutrient concentrations. Dark, stained and sometimes smelly water are all results of an unbalanced system. More information about our Nation’s waters are available on the National Fish Habitat Action Plan website, a wealth of details everyone is affected by.
When we began producing artificial fish habitat products made from reclaimed PVC siding called Fishiding, the ability to grow algae immediately on the inert surface area, appealed to the fisherman. Like myself, the average fisherman understands that habitat with good algae growth seems to hold more fish. It wasn’t until reading more and talking to Bruce that I began to understand the big picture of why this holds true.
These nutrients stick to surfaces underwater and create the beginning of the food chain called periphyton. Many forms of this wonderful natural, filter and food factory are present. Algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, zoo plankton and other invertebrates, function as a community highly efficient in capturing and processing nutrients. When I say processing, this means turning it into food of the highest quality found on earth. The more fish graze on it, it grows faster, decreasing bio mass and the fish grow at alarming rates, making the water clearer.
Numerous types of periphtyon are present, some require light to thrive and some do best in the dark. The more surface area available, the more periphyton can grow and work its magic. Pretend the floating island is a supermarket, the more shelves available the more food can be stocked for consumption. Small fish and fry eat this “super food” until about age one, when they begin to forage on larger minnows and bugs. Periphyton is the “mother’s milk” needed to start life full of nourishment.
This process has been perfected in second and third world countries. We are lacking in knowledge here in the states, but it’s improving with over 4400 of these floating treatment wetlands installed here and worldwide.
Think about all the ponds and lakes in your area. Golfcoarse ponds, retention ponds, private and public, there are many. Some are clear and deep with a balanced mesotrophic or oligotrophic eco system. The other 50% eutrophic waters, could be teaming with fish and every citizen is asked to help keep them clean…..by catching as many fish as you can eat, and removing them! The fish also reproduce faster than normal, so there is no worry of running out. Fish Fry Lake is living, thriving proof of this for all to see. Renee’ and I caught over 500 fish in less than eight hours of fishing. If your hook was in the water, it was being attacked by one or more gorgeous perch or crappie. From 6-8” one year olds, to 12-14” plus jumbos! Remember, this is in Montana not Lake Michigan, the only other place I have ever seen perch of this size. Perch and Crappie were abundant to say the least, with a perch containing about one percent live weight of phosphorus. The name “Fish Fry Lake” more than lives up to its name. Remember, this works with no chemicals, win,win,win…….
This natural cause and effect has other uses too. Bioswales also made by FII, are used in ditches and swales to slow down erosion as water runs through it, similar to adding hay bales in a ditch after new construction. The difference in using the inert matrix, patented by FII, is that as the bioswales slow down the water, the periphyton forms and begins to consume the over abundant nutrients, cleaning the water as it passes through slowly. Unlike the hay bales, the matrix never breaks down, which would add to the nutrient load in the waterway. Same with weeds, as they decompose, they remove oxygen from the water and add fertile organic matter that acts like fertilizer. Inert substrates like the matrix material used in the Floating islands, never breakdown and keep working year round to feed the fish and clean the water.
One of the optimal ways that FTWs can transition nutrients from water to beneficial use is to grow bacterial biofilm rather than floating algae. Bacterial biofilms grow faster than algae when their limiting parameters are satisfied, and when they have adequate circulation and surface area for growth. With appropriate stewardship, they also are an improved primary food source for fish (Azim 2005).
Circulation increases bacterial efficiency by bringing nutrients such as dissolved oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus to the biofilm.
A single 1000-square-foot BioHaven Floating Island can provide over 18 acres of strategic “concentrated wetland effect” surface area.
As demonstrated in field-scale case studies, waterways containing FTWs remove contaminants (pollutants) such as ammonia, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, Total Organic Carbon (TOC), Biochemical/Chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD/COD) and total suspended solids (TSS). These studies have included municipal wastewater, storm water, lakes and agricultural runoff. FTWs have demonstrated the ability to simultaneously remove all of these contaminants, due to their complex biofilms containing both aerobic and anoxic bacteria.
Dissolved oxygen (DO) levels are higher when inert substrate are used rather than organic substrates like wood, due to oxygen consumption during organic carbon uptake by biofilms. Inert substrates like BioHaven polymer matrix, can provide a more precise ability to initiate movement of a waterway’s nutrient load up the food chain. Periphyton moves nutrients up the food chain better than does synthetic fish food.
The bottom line is this. To ultimately remove these unwanted nutrients, fish have to be harvested. Not all lakes have these issues, but in Eutrophic lakes, the fish contain these nutrients and have to be caught and eaten to keep up with the periphyton growth. A perch for example, contains about 1% live weight of phosphorus. By removing enough fish to equal one pound of this chemical which is safe for humans and needed for strong bones, about 700 pounds of aquatic vegetation never gets a chance to grow. No chemicals or weed harvesting just fishing and keeping them for the table. Would you be willing to help clean your neighborhood pond by catching and eating some fresh fish? It’s a reality and is being performed at an alarming rate at Fish Fry Lake. We flew home with only one checked bag, 50 pounds of fresh fillets.
Clean water entering the Yellowstone River and ultimately the Mississippi, Stewardship is the lesson to be learned.