Bloom forcing charter captains to consider alternatives

J. Patrick Eaken

As poisonous algae continues to spread eastward from the western basin of Lake Erie, charter boat captains have to consider alternatives if they want to stay in business.
        “Here we are again. It hasn’t changed a bit — it’s the same situation, just a different year,” said Dave Spangler, owner of Dr. Bugs Charters, based out of Wild Wings Marina in Oak Harbor.
        “What’s happening this year is what has happened to us in the past. We had a fantastic June, lots of charter trips, and it’s like the bottom falls out of it in July. By  comparison, I had 20 trips out to the lake in June, I had four in July. August is going to be just a continuation. I’m sitting out here right now, and it’s absolutely terrible looking out here,” added Spangler,
        “This past season, fishing for walleye has been absolutely fantastic — there is no other way to describe it. We could continue to do that right now if we had somebody to go out and go catch them.”
        Don McGee of King and Eye Charters, based in Jerusalem Township’s Meinke Marina, believes not seizing the opportunity to fish Lake Erie is a wasted chance for recreational anglers.
        “It’s one of the great fisheries in the world. I’ve seen the highs and I’ve seen the lows. Back in the 80s, you could just go out the door and catch your 10 fish with not much difficulty in doing so. Then, I’ve seen the 90s where we had a slowdown with reproduction and things changed. In the early 2000s, we had a really big hatch of fish that sustained us for almost 10 years. Then in 2013, ’14, ’15, and ’16 we’ve had phenomenal hatches,” McGee said.
        It is not just the charter boat captains, it is an entire industry that offshoots fishing and recreation.
        “It’s one of those where it’s affecting our business, and of course, other people,” Spangler said. “A good example — within our marina we have a family that their job and their source of living is they clean the fish that we bring in from our clients. That’s their sole income. Of course, if we don’t go out and come back in with fish, then they don’t have anything to do. They are in the seasonal time that we are, and we can’t make it up when we lose six, seven, eight weeks of time when people don’t want to come out.
        “Within our marina, of course, we have a fuel dock. Of course, when we don’t go out we don’t need fuel, so those are the kinds of things that a lot of people forget about that all add up. There are some studies underway that are trying to quantify some of this stuff, but it’s hard to do because, for example, some of the charters that are further east of us — maybe they are fishing down Marblehead, the Kelleys Island area — right now they don’t have this problem. Now, they may, you just never know. This stuff is susceptible to wherever the wind is going to blow.”
        McGee says another business affected is Maumee Bay State Park, thanks to swimming advisories.
        “Look at Maumee Bay State Park right now,” said McGee. “What a great, beautiful park but there is nobody in the water.
        “If you are going to be from out of town, and you are going to go to Maumee Bay State Park, which is absolutely a gorgeous park — the food is fantastic, the rooms are really good, the outback and woods are great, but if you can’t put them in the water, they are going to go someplace else.”
Go east, charter boat captain
        So, what are the alternatives? Move your business east and hope the bloom doesn’t continue to spread that direction, says Spangler.
        “Our only other alternative is that we may have to move down east somewhere. Of course, that’s at a considerable cost, so you are going to pay for another dock, running back and forth and overnight staying down east. It’s one of those where the western basin gets hammered more than anybody else because this is where the concentration of algae is,” Spangler said.
        “I used to go to Huron years ago. I may do that again just because, if I can’t go out here, it’s not going to do me any good to just sit here and dock,” Spangler continued.
        “So, I may run down there and eventually end the season there. Back in 2011, when we had that mammoth one (bloom), I was down in Huron in the fall and it was one of those times when the wind blew everything that way and it ended up clear over to Cleveland. We were running over there, and it was so thick over in the Huron and Vermilion area, that it was actually slowing the boats down. It could be this year, too.”
        McGee says even though the government is finding millions of dollars to prevent algae-feeding phosphorous from entering the lake, millions more are being lost in terms of fishing and recreation.
        “(Television news) asked me the other day a question and I said, ‘You know, people are coming to Lake Erie for whatever reason, they decide to go fishing and the algae is bad, so some people may opt not to do that. Where, if you have any bad publicity, bad algae, people just won’t go fishing. They are not going to question anything,” McGee said.
        “There’s a lot to be done. They know what causes it, they really know actually how to treat it, a lot of money is being spent but there are not much results at this time,” McGee said. “They have the technology to find out exactly where this comes from. We’re spending (millions) of dollars and that’s a lot of money when you are not getting any results. That’s pretty sad when you don’t get results in less time.
        Spangler believes accountability should lead to a solution, eventually.
        “It’s not going away. We need a lot of help from people talking to our friends down in Columbus to get this thing fixed. The bottom line is we’ve spent time, we’ve spent money and we have nothing to show for it at this point in time,” McGee said.
        “I know we’ve got moneys coming now with the new budget and what the governor wanted to give for moneys. We’re encouraged about that, but we have to temper that if people are going to spend money to do whatever, we need to have a recount of what is going on. Accountability of those dollars is very, very important, so anything that is done, we need to have a before and after so they know it did, or even if it didn’t. Even if it’s something we tried and we find out, ‘Hey, that’s not working at all,’ at least we learned something that way.”


The Press

The Press
1550 Woodville Road
Millbury, OH 43447

(419) 836-2221

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Ohio News Media Association