Carp ponds once produced fish for the East

Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Cleyo Harris makes an incision in the gastric cavity of a grass carp so the fish can be tagged with a transmitter.
Here is a pedestrian bridge in Sterling State Park that crosses a lagoon.  Many of the efforts that led to the restoration of water in the western basin of the Raisin River and Lake Erie can be traced to William Clark Sterling's Monroe Carp Farm Company and recognition of the value of wetland protection , marshes and waterways for future generations and the good of the environment.  .
Rock ramps have been installed in parts of the Raisin River to replicate the natural flow of the river while allowing some dams to be left in place.  Local Monroe residents, including Dick Micka, Daniel Stefanski and Frank Nagy, have joined the River Raisin Public Advisory Council to advocate for the restoration of the river.

According to “The Pageant of Historic Monroe”, there was a major carp farming operation in Monroe which supplied fish for sale in eastern markets such as New York and international trade to the Far East.

As was written in 1926 when the book was published, “Carp have been found in our streams for years but were not regarded as fish for market until a demand for them, one way or another, was created in the eastern markets, and it was at this time that several carp ponds were built.

The text “The Pageant of Historic Monroe” continues, “The largest pond was dredged on the north side of the river [the River Raisin] under Johnson Island. The carp were caught in nets and transferred to this pond which was supplied with fresh water from the river by means of endless bucket conveyors, which hydrated the area. At the seasonal time of the year, they were removed from this pond and placed in tank cars filled with water and thus shipped alive to the markets in the East. The pond was abandoned and a few years later another pond was dredged from the south side of the river at the entrance to the “old river bed”; a few years ago this pond was abandoned. The carp, although confined to these ponds, were fed corn and other grains.

Further investigation of the owner of the Monroe carp pond and the issues that led to his disappearance led to the identification of the owner as William Clark Sterling (1849-1924) who became well known to many as a successful Monroe businessman, outdoorsman and early conservationist whose activities and advocacy led to the formation of the Michigan State Park that bears his name in Monroe.

The case “Monroe Carp Pond Co. vs. River Raisin Paper Co. – 215 NW 325 (Mich. 1927)” – mentions this fact. The results of the case could be seen as the start of the environmental movement to tackle water pollution. that existed in the Raisin River, other nearby tributaries, and Lake Erie that led to nearly a century of water cleanup and restoration efforts.

The problem was reduced oxygen levels in the water near Monroe Carp Pond – which was also the headquarters of the River Raisin Paper Company – one of eight industries that operated along the water in the region. The rationale for the decision was as follows: Monroe is a city of approximately 13,000 people. Its principal industries are the mills of the defendants. There are eight of them, employing around 3,000 people. Defendants’ investment in these plants is approximately $15 million. The evidence convinces us that there is no way of treating and purifying their wastes on their own premises in such a way as to enable the factories to be operated at a reasonable profit. Seven of the defendants’ mills were erected before the plaintiff established his carp pond in 1916. The eighth was built in 1918.

The judgment continues: The plaintiff company has a share capital of $10,000. It employs one to five men. Although the filing does not contain a list of its shareholders, it appears that Mr. Sterling had control. He was a long-term resident of Monroe and was well acquainted with the industries of the defendants and the extent to which the city depended on them for its prosperity.

The decision also recognized that water pollution existed; thus beginning Michigan’s acquisition of the park’s first 134 acres—a narrow strip between Lake Erie and a lagoon—in 1935. Part of the land had been donated by the city of Monroe and the Monroe Piers Land Company, which formerly owned by Sterling.

Tom Adamich is president of the Visiting Librarian Service, a business he has operated since 1993. He is also a project archivist for the Greening Nursery Company and Family Archives.

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