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Published: Friday, 12/16/2011

Toxic algae in Lake Erie threatens fishing, tourism

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS -- Toxic algae blooms have never been worse in Lake Erie, and the situation is threatening fish and tourism, Ohio officials said.

Analyses show numbers of walleye and yellow perch -- the lake's most-lucrative sport-fish species -- drop significantly as the level of algae rises, and that affects the lake's $10 billion annual tourism industry, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Algae blooms are fed by phosphorous, which has been above safe levels, Roger Knight, program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said in a report given Wednesday to the Lake Erie Commission in Columbus. "The trends are moving in the wrong direction no matter where on the lake you go," Mr. Knight said.

Increased farm fertilizer runoff because of record rainfall is one reason for the higher phosphorous levels, he said.

Blue-green algae -- cyanobacteria -- are common in most Ohio lakes and grow thick in water polluted with phosphorus from fertilizer, manure, and sewage washed into streams. The algae can excrete liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and threaten fish and wildlife.

Algae warning signs were posted at public beaches in eight state parks, including along Lake Erie, this summer. "We saw things this summer that were unreal," Jack Madison, general manager of an Ottawa County marina, said.

Dave Spangler, head of the Lake Erie Waterkeepers, a group that backs watershed preservation, said waterfront business is down nearly 30 percent, and he would like to see state officials confront the problem with more urgency.

Scott Nally, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency chief, said his office will submit a proposal for counteracting Lake Erie pollution to Gov. John Kasich by February.



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