Fish tested throughout much of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River system have registered high levels of DDT, chlordane, lindane, mirex, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other contaminants. This is not good for anybody, but is especially problematic for those like the Akwesasne Mohawks, for whom fish from this river system have long constituted a staple of the diet. Jeff is a member of the Akwesasne band. He was interested in exploring aquaculture as a safer alternative to catching wild fish, and demonstrating it to his neighbors on the St. Regis Reserve, where aquaculture is practiced by few others, if any. His SARE project concerned raising fish in two different ways: 1) in a system of spring-fed ponds and tanks of his own design, and 2) in cages lowered into a river. The latter is feasible because research has shown that the source of the contamination is not the water itself, so much as the aquatic food chain. Fish reared in the St. Lawrence system will not accumulate organic contaminants in more than trace quantities, so long as they are provided with food, and thus effectively removed from the local food chain.
Jeff excavated two large ponds, which he stocked with sturgeon, bullhead, and perch. The ponds are aerated, and provided with fish food daily. He catches fish from the ponds, and also uses them as a source of fry with which he stocks a large tank, which he has erected adjacent to one of the ponds. The tank is enclosed and equipped with a filtration and heating system, to permit over-wintering observation, and allow a site for spring spawning.
Jeff also obtained two large rectangular cages. He lowered these into the St. Regis River, and stocked them with bullhead. He lined the bottoms of the cages with mud, for the bullhead to bury themselves in.
Jeff reports that both systems have worked well, though he has discontinued the cage culture because he had other uses for the cages (he took them apart to make enclosures for his wife’s ostriches). Over time trout, as well, have also established themselves in the ponds. The fish from the pond-and-tank system provide Jeff with regular catches, much of which he smokes. Jeff sells his smoked fish on the premises, and recently has begun selling to a store in New York City, as well.