Trading Nutrients for Fish

“These BioHaven Things Really Work—We’re Trading Nutrients for Fish!”

Today a friend called to say she’d run into an acquaintance and they’d struck up a conversation about a local waterway, a Native American ceremonial spring on a nearby Reservation.  Both are concerned about recent reports about poor water quality at the springs.  My friend mentioned BioHaven as a possible solution. Her acquaintance was surprised to hear our product mentioned twice in two days. Another friend and neighbor had just told him how BioHaven floating islands fixed his fishing pond.  

Those fishing ponds had gone through the chemical treatment process, but chemicals did not stop the algae.  BioHavens—platforms that mimic natural floating wetlands—did, without chemicals, and now the water is crystal clear and his prized fish are regaining health, color, and productivity. These ponds are growing fish from the excessive nutrients in the pond. The natural ecological system has been kickstarted by the platform.     

Growing Champions with BioHavens

Right here at Shepherd, I’m a three minute walk to BioHaven floating islands that are big enough to support tour groups.  In fact, we’ve had dozens of tours where folks get to walk on and see the water, the fish, the dragon flies, the turtles.  They almost always are handed a fishing pole and test their skill, and strength, in catching a few fish.  There’s nothing like it when a youngster—or an 80 year-old—needs both hands to hoist up a plate-sized bluegill! 

a bluegill cycles out excess nutrients from the lake
This guest at Fish Fry Lake caught a plate-sized bluegill—naturally fed from the biomass that feeds on the excess nutrients from nearby corn farms.

Folks leave Fish Fry Lake with a sense that this is what all of our parks should have: their own version of our Montana lake!  

For me there’s a solace, a kind of restoration, connected with sitting on the corner of a BioHaven floating streambed as it churns water from below up and into a pollinator-island, a version of BioHaven on which blossoms and bees create their own beauty.  While that’s happening on top, the fish are still another spectacle below, with literally layers of green sunfish, followed by black crappie and then yellow perch.  In between, Largemouth bass happen.  A form of native freshwater sponge has latched onto our islands too, and they add still another level of life as they become part of nature’s filter process and contribute to the crystal clarity of Fish Fry’s water.  

Can we fix the ceremonial spring?  Without a doubt, because this is what BioHavens do.  BioHavens are a platform that launches nature’s food web.  The result is beauty and restoration. 

a floating island in a river in front of native trees
“Drop Dead Gorgeous”! These BioHaven floating islands have fixed a local fishing pond and delighted the customer with their beautiful appearance.

But Cleaning Water is Expensive

The Indigenous people on whose land the ceremonial spring lives undoubtedly have many ways to spend their money. Cleaning water for the sake of having clean water is noble, but it is expensive. Even the wastewater industry is using the term Water Resource Recovery instead of water-treatment these days. That industry is being purposeful about not just making polluted water safe, but also extracting value from this water. Here’s another way of saying this: “Clean water needs to pay for itself.” If you live on a lake or own a pond, you may have had a similar thought.

Wouldn’t it be great if your lake or pond could be a resource for you to enjoy rather than something nasty to be dealt with and pour money into?

Ultimately, bodies of water are slipping into hyper eutrophication status—ponds are green, smelly, contributing greenhouse gas emissions, and dying—because it is expensive and difficult to treat lakes and ponds that receive excessive nutrients. Only by envisioning a way so that the projects pay for themselves will they be brought back to health en masse.

BioHaven floating islands incorporate key features that enhance for specific fish production. It’s as if all we do is turn nature loose! It’s as if all we have to do is give nature permission to do her work.

The concept of including fisheries management in strategies for water quality improvement is not new, but floating islands give the notion a boost. The simple concept is, add lots and lots of substrate and the fish will come! Catch more fish and you will sequester the unwanted nutrients in a more appropriate part of the eco-system – lunch!

Letting Nature Do Her Work Growing Fish Instead of Algae

Our BioHaven platforms, or islands, are made of a filter-like matrix, every cubic foot of which provides over 300 square feet of surface area for beneficial microbial growth. This surface area is habitat for microbes, one of the only life forms that grow faster than algae. The island matrix grows a coating of biofilm. Whatever’s suspended in the water tends to stick to the biofilm. This includes nutrients, like phosphorus, ammonia, and other forms of nitrogen. Initially, when we filled Fish Fry Lake—our flagship research and exhibition space for BioHaven floating island products—water clarity in the pea-soup green mosquito factory was fourteen inches. But the islands and their sticky biofilm changed that. In fact, in the winter of 2016, water clarity was at 19 feet.

The fish we work with most are fathead minnows, panfish, and largemouth bass. Today specific models of BioHavens are available to help optimize for health and growth of these fish. Think of it this way: The food for this job is free in about half of our nation’s waterways—What am I talking about? The excess nutrients that come in from runoff, of course! Combine these excess nutrients with premier habitat, and aeration/circulation, which our BioHaven products handle exceptionally, and you will grow fish at an outrageous rate.

increase fish production and manage eutrophication
Grow fish, not algae, when the ecosystem is in balance

The key point is that our projects can pay for themselves. That’s the starting premise.

Nature-as-model, biomimicry, is the gentle arm-twister that pulls us towards actual sustainability!  Here at the Shepherd, Montana research center, where BioHaven Floating Islands were born, we marvel at the result when we partner with nature.

We partner with autotrophic life forms, like hyperaccumulator plants that cycle exponentially more nutrients (and other contaminants) out of water than regular plants do.  We design BioHavens to give these superstars of the plant kingdom the best possible growth conditions, to help us fix water! 

Trade nutrients for fish—and cash!

You can read about our Minnow Pond to learn more about how our minnow harvest cleans the water, eradicates mosquito and midge larvae, and pays for itself and then some.

Last night Anne and I fished one side of Fish Fry Lake and covered maybe a half-mile of its southern shoreline.  We landed eight largemouth bass, and released one fish that was over 17 inches, large enough to forage on bluegill.  The other seven smaller bass, the ones that focus on crawfish as forage, we kept.  They will become larder for us, the trim for our canine support troops, and anything they won’t consume is biomass that goes back into crawfish and black crappie and Northern yellow perch that fill in critical niches of the Fish Fry Lake food web.  

grow fish like these minnows being scooped by handful from a bucket

Fish Fry Lake is healthy and becoming more so as we cycle nutrients out of the lake—swap nutrients for fish.

This is what it looks like to partner with nature. On an annual basis, we will harvest nutrients out of the lake at approximately the same level that they enter it. Last night we harvested nutrients in the form of fish. Tomorrow we will do so in the form of specific plants. This is stewardship.

What we’ve been doing in Montana at our research center and at 6,000 other locations where we’ve launched floating treatment wetlands with our clients and partners to explore turning excess nutrients into fish to improve water quality is truly remarkable.

Stewardship is not simple.  It requires specialized expertise.  If you don’t invest in actual science, you are not functioning to your greatest potential as a water steward. Likewise if you don’t partner with nature as model.

Please contact FII.  We will help you figure out what next steps you need to take. We will connect you and your water with an Island Master.  We will support you as you move closer towards sustainable scientific solutions, towards Nature’s Model of Water Resource Recovery.