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Algae bloom hitting some Lake Erie businesses in the wallet

10/02/2017, 2:00pm EDT
By By MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

It is hard to calculate the precise cost of the green water


Capt. Dave Spangler holds samples of water from Maumee Bay, which shows the algae, earlier in September. THE BLADE

PORT CLINTON — The Lake Erie algal bloom brings with it a reservoir full of painful and problematic issues. There is the omnipresent threat to our drinking water — it is as if the wolf is there on the front porch, repeatedly pawing and scratching at the door. Third-hand rumors about the safety of the tap water catch fire and become a conflagration on social media, and panic runs to the store shelves ensue.

There are also the many concerns about the additional chemicals that are needed to treat the water during these periods of significant algae, and the potential long-term effects of those. And we have to factor in the whims of nature — the wind can choke a section of the lake with green gunk one day, or send it off in another direction the next day, dispersing as it moves across the lake.

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The bottom line is besides its putrid appearance, its hidden poisons, and its ability to frighten a community, what the algal bloom does best is foment uncertainty. That creates an environment of insecurity, which reverberates throughout the region, claiming numerous victims.

It is hard to calculate the precise cost of the algal bloom, in terms of empty hotel rooms, restaurant meals never sold, gas never purchased, bait never sold, and fish never caught, but some in the business of fishing suspect the yet-to-be-tallied toll is substantial. Green is the primary color in the scary optics the bloom has fostered, and the color of the tourism and fishing money it has possibly sent elsewhere.

“Without question there has been a significant economic impact,” said Paul Pacholski, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. “That is the No. 1 issue we hear about — the algae.”

Pacholski said at a recent meeting of his organization, the charter captains in attendance indicated a general 25 percent drop in their business because of the algal bloom, although some captains experienced more loss of business and others had experienced little impact.

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“The bottom line is that the algal bloom is horrible this year, and the pictures everyone sees are scary,” Pacholski said. “Counting this year, we’ve had two of the biggest blooms in history in the past three years. Not enough is being done, and the reputation of the lake is just getting diminished by the day.”

Captain Dave Whitt runs the three-boat Coe-Vanna Charters operation out of Wild Wings Marina west of here, and he said the algal bloom exploded after an August of “tough fishing” and his business has suffered a 25 percent drop as a result.

“Now the fish are biting, but business has not picked back up,” Whitt said. “We’ve got this disgusting, green, puke-like wake coming off the boat, and it’s embarrassing. People see pictures of this ... and my phone just stopped ringing. I’ve had open weekends this past month, and that hasn’t happened in 15 years.”

The charter fishing industry is a major player in the Ohio waters of Lake Erie, where there are 693 licensed charter captains. The most recent statistics cited by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources put the economic punch of sportfishing on Lake Erie’s Ohio waters at $1 billion annually.

Captain Dave Spangler, who runs Dr. Bugs Charters on the western end of the lake, said the impact of this year’s algal bloom is similar to what was experienced in 2015, with a 20 to 25 percent drop in business associated with the many questions about the health of the lake, and the bad visuals from the bloom. Spangler stressed the wide spectrum of businesses that have been hit by the public relations nightmare known as microcystis.

“The business downturn of course includes the bait and tackle shops, fish cleaning operations, and marina fuel docks,” Spangler said.

While the algal bloom has been a gut-punch to some of the businesses associated with recreational fishing on the lake, others have hardly experienced a blip because of the sea of green.

“I think it is very safe to say it has had zero effect on my fishing or business,” said Captain Ross Robertson of Big Water Fishing. “I catch fish right in the middle of it. I think drinking it and whatever long-term effect it has on the biology end is a whole lot more of a concern than anything for me.”

Robertson said fishing in the lake with the algae present makes for more cleanup time at the end of the day, but beyond that he continues to take clients out regularly.

“I'm no biologist and I hope that the long-term effect doesn't put the [lake’s] cycle in too bad of shape, but we have had these blooms on and off for decades,” he said. “I'm not saying it’s a good thing, but I think people just like to find something to sensationalize for the minute, and then they will forget about it as soon as we can see our breath in the air.”

Captain Mike McCroskey of Hawg Hanger Charters said his customers have experienced the best perch fishing season he can recall, as he focuses his efforts on the Lake Erie reef areas.

“It’s clean water with no algae around the fabled Lake Erie reefs,” McCroskey said, chastising the politicians and others in Toledo for constantly banging the drum about the seriousness of the algal bloom.

“I’m out here all year, and I think they blow this out of proportion,” he said. “They don’t leave their offices much and they see a little algae on the Maumee River and they want impaired status for the lake. Most of the lake is still beautiful. Tell them to stay in their offices — they do more harm than good.”

Julene Market, who operates the Miller Boat Line ferry service with her two brothers, said the 2017 algae bloom has had no harmful impact on the operation, which serves the Lake Erie Islands.

“There’s been no negative feedback or vacation plan changes that we’ve heard about [because of the algal bloom], and it hasn’t impacted our Miller Marina business,” she said, joining the growing call for an impaired designation for this end of the lake and the long-term benefits she expects that to bring.

“Having the lake declared impaired ... perhaps this could help gain the much-needed attention and funding that is so badly needed from the federal government,” Market said.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com, or 419-724-6068.

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A large algal bloom has spread across western Lake Erie, posing a threat to municipal water supplies and negatively impacting many of the charter fishing businesses on the lake. NOAA


Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson speaks with Paul Pacholski, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, during a press conference about algae in 2015. THE BLADE

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