Sep 17, 2012
Converting recycled siding into habitat and fish flesh
By Mike Pehanich
What image does a pile of vinyl home siding conjure for you?
Environmental waste? A poorly managed construction site? Garbage dumps?
To David Ewald, it signifies fish food and habitat!
Ewald is the founder of “Fishiding,” a company that recycles home siding into compact units of portable fish habitat. What makes his products particularly noteworthy, however, is their ability to ignite a food chain that converts into generous quantities of fish flesh!
For reasons few fathomed before recent fortuitous discoveries, when you submerge the polyvinyl chloride materials used for everything from plumbing pipes and building siding to linings for garbage dumps, they become magnets for biofilm, the mix of organisms that form the foundation of the aquatic food chain,
“Biofilm is the beginning of all aquatic life,” explains Ewald. “It is made up of bacteria, different algae, diatom periphyton, phytoplankton periphyton…all these little critters!”
Some of these tiny “critters” are dissolved in water. Some are large enough to see with a strained look from the naked eye, Ewald notes.
They thrive on the “runoff” pollutants of agriculture and yard and garden culture. In the process, they improve water clarity and quality, much as aquatic plants to. What’s more, they ultimately convert a high percentage of the nutrients they absorb into pounds of sport fish, available for fun or fish fry.
“That biofilm is like a glue to all these organic particles,” explains Ewald. “They are floating around the water column and essentially looking for something to settle on and stick to. They attract nitrogen and phosphorous and convert it to algae and film, building this community of bacteria and plankton that we call ‘periphyton.’ This biofilm converts into the highest form of fish food.”
Periphyton grows on submerged tree branches, too, but natural brush has its downside, beginning with its impermanence.
“Unlike the brushpiles and Christmas trees we commonly put into our waters, our PVC-based habitat does not rot and decay and use up dissolved oxygen in the process.”
This healthful microscopic community develops quickly, too. Place pods of habitat in a natural aquatic environment, and biofilm will form within 24 hours, according to Ewald. Insects may appear next, followed by minnows and fry, panfish, and game fish along with frogs, turtles and other life forms.
“I am told that fish feed on periphyton up to about age “1,” says Ewald, who first placed his habitat in his home lake in northern Illinois 2-1/2 years ago. “After that, they need more for a meal. I termed it the ‘Mother’s Milk’ of fish food because it is that extremely nourishing. It provides more nourishment than any of the fish foods being produced and used in aquaculture and fish farm. It is the best thing nature can provide. Fish are getting a jump on life by eating this (periphyton).”
His Fishiding habitat comes in different sizes and configurations to provide a range of alternatives for different depths and cover types. He recommends positioning the units in clusters of three or more.
The PVC fronds are easily spread and shaped into different bush- or plant-like configurations.
The habitat may substitute for natural vegetation for effective lake management strategies, which generally call for natural cover over 20-25 percent of lake acreage.