Haunted by memories of algal blooms that drove tourists away from Lake Erie, charter boat captains are assisting the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency by collecting weekly water samples while out on fishing trips.
“After the algal bloom last year we offered our services to the Ohio EPA, and they were more than happy to take in all the partners they could,” said captain Paul Pacholski, vice president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association.
In early July, the association and the Ohio EPA launched the Charter Boat Captains Sampling Program.
The EPA usually acquires water samples from 13 locations on a monthly basis. The charter boat captains will now give the EPA additional water samples from a wider area on a weekly basis. This summer, 10 members based out of four different marinas will cover a wide area of the lake, from the Toledo shipping channels to the east side of Kelleys Island.
“This gives us a snapshot of the lake on one day in a whole bunch of different locations. We’re hoping it helps us get additional data on the lake to find out what the algal blooms are doing,” said Amy Jo Klei of the EPA’s Division of Surface Water.
It’s just one of several steps lake experts are taking this year to tackle the issue of the harmful blooms, including assistance to farmers to reduce runoff from farmland and effluent from wastewater treatment plants and leaking septic systems that increase phosphorus levels. Last year’s blooms, which coated the lake’s western basin with thick, bright-green film, were the worst in decades, officials said.
Rick Unger, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, recalled how the blooms last year harmed charter boaters.
“It meant trips were canceled and we had reduced bookings, and that’s money out of our pockets. We also had to travel extra miles to get away from the algal blooms, which meant longer trips and more gas for us,” he said. Mr. Pacholski estimated the local charter boat industry took a 10-15 percent hit last year as a result.
“We want people to come in and see Lake Erie at its best. But there was no getting around the algae, you had to drive right through it,” Mr. Unger said.
The captains in the new joint program take water samples wherever they happen to be fishing that day. “It’s at the captain’s discretion,” said Ms. Klei.
The captains dip a length of PVC pipe two meters into the water to collect a sample and conduct measurements of water clarity.
“It doesn’t take but five minutes, and we can do that in a normal business day on the lake,” said Mr. Pacholski.
The captains then drop off their samplings at their local bait shops, where someone from the EPA comes by to collect them for analysis.
“We’re not really inconvenienced because we’re going back to our bait shops to drop off our fish anyway,” said Mr. Pacholski.
He predicts the number of charter boat captains participating will increase in future summers.
“I think this is definitely a unique private public partnership,” said Ms. Klei. “They’re doing this all for free because they care about the lake.”
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