Summer 2017 eNewsletter
Charter Captains Use NOAA Tool to Teach about Algae
Lake Erie charter captains aren’t just taking customers fishing — they’re educating them about harmful algal blooms
For the last 34 years, Paul Pacholski has been loading fish enthusiasts onto his boat, The Hopper, and running them to his favorite walleye and perch holes on Lake Erie. He makes his living knowing how to find the big catches. But recently, he and fellow charter captains have become experts on much smaller and less profitable organisms.
They have been learning about harmful algal blooms (HABs) as both a necessity and a service. Knowing the location and movement of HABs in the lake is critical for fishing operations, because blooms detract from the fishing experience for many customers. Dave Spangler, the captain at Dr. Bug’s Charters, remembers the record bloom of 2015:
“Just looking at 2015, typically everyone lost 25% of their business. Now, think about the fact that we only run from April until November. You’ve got to earn your living during that short time. We lost 6 weeks because of the 2015 bloom.”
The Lake Erie HAB Tracker was created by NOAA GLERL and CIGLR specifically to help businesses, public utilities, and recreationists anticipate and plan around HAB events. By providing current HAB concentrations and a 5-day forecast in an easy-to-interpret color scale, the tool makes it obvious where algae is and where it isn’t. The HAB Tracker supplements NOAA’s Lake Erie HAB Bulletin with more frequent updates. For charter captains, the HAB Tracker is a useful tool for planning trips and for reassuring customers that the lake is still suitable for fishing.
Some anglers like to use “true color” satellite images to track water quality conditions in the lake, but these images can be easy to misinterpret. Plumes of “dirty water” from river outflow can look greenish in satellite images and be mistaken for HABs. Although this darker, turbid water can also be a water quality issue, anglers sometimes look for this color change to find water rich with plankton and other prey that attract fish. Pacholski says the HAB Tracker can help clarify the difference between turbid water and areas of the lake predicted to have harmful algae:
“…Green pictures don’t do much. [We] have been at so many meetings where they show pictures of green water to make a point about the algae. Well, half the time, these images show turbidity, not harmful algal blooms. But, to an untrained eye, turbidity is algae…With NOAA’s tools, you don’t even need an education to know the difference between the two. The HAB Tracker only shows you the harmful algae.”
Their access to the lake and ability to find and talk about HABs has brought these captains a new kind of clientele. Journalists, policy makers, and farmers are increasingly boarding Pacholski and Spangler’s boats to view the blooms to better understand them. “We might not always be able to catch fish in a bloom, but we can usually find algae. [We]’re taking an increasing number of people out on the lake, just because they want to study the bloom. But, it doesn’t pay like fishing does.” The HAB Tracker not only tells the captains where to go, it also helps them explain the negative impacts of harmful algal blooms to their passengers.
Beyond educating customers, Pacholski and Spangler also organize opportunities for the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association’s (LECBA) 300 members to learn about the latest HABs science and management efforts. The LECBA participates in an annual Charter Captain’s Conference held at Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory to receive HAB updates from Ohio Sea Grant and other managers and researchers. The LECBA leadership attends other meetings and conferences throughout the year, and shares what they learn about HABs with members during briefings at monthly meetings.
“…We do it because we want the whole country to unite in our struggle to fight this,” said Pacholski. “I don’t think that enough people really understand sources, amounts, and how [HABs] are affecting their lives.”
The ability of charter captains to communicate what they learn about HABs research to a broad audience makes them a valuable partner for CIGLR and GLERL as they strive to produce research that is meaningful to Lake Erie stakeholders. Since fall of 2016, CIGLR and GLERL have worked with the LECBA to support their efforts to educate the public about HABs, and to understand how HAB research products may benefit the Lake Erie fishing community. By working with these captains, CIGLR and GLERL are creating a dialogue about the causes and impacts of HABs, and how HAB research can support the Lake Erie fishing industry.
To view the Lake Erie HAB Tracker forecast, visit https://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/HABs_and_Hypoxia/habTracker.html. The NOAA Lake Erie HAB Bulletin is available at https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/hab/lakeerie. For more information about CIGLR’s stakeholder engagement work, contact Devin Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (734) 741-2283.