Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are treasured resources that New Yorkers should rally around and support whenever a threat arises — be it access to the resource, restrictions on its use, attacks on the quality of the water or introductions of invasive species.
That's naming just a few concerns.
At the VIP/Media Day hosted by the Erie and Chautauqua County Fisheries Advisory Boards earlier this month, there was a valuable lesson to be learned that could relate directly to Clint Eastwood's iconic 1966 movie, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
Last week's column was all about "the good," with the outstanding walleye fishing that has been another high point during a spectacular season that could potentially be record-breaking as far as catch rates are concerned. However, as participants had an opportunity to experience the fishery first-hand, Rich Davenport of Tonawanda warned of things that could jeopardize these dynamic natural resources — "the Bad and the Ugly."
Davenport, who sits on the Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board, was called to the front podium at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club to list some of the bad. The first focused on safety and access.
"There are some serious problems with Sturgeon Point that are very challenging," said Davenport. "The harbor may not be open next year. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the breakwalls are in structural failure. Right now this falls on the shoulders of the Town of Evans. It shouldn't."
Sturgeon Point is the only safe harbor between Cattaraugus Creek and Buffalo. From a safety standpoint, this is a big concern. If you've ever fished on the lake or lived in the Western New York area, you should know how fast things can change weather-wise. Sturgeon Point is a regional asset, and we all share in its use. We should share in maintaining it, too.
"The Town of Evans can't continue to fund the marina themselves," insists Davenport. According to Evans Town Supervisor Mary Hosler, the town has two years left of a dredging grant to keep the harbor open. In addition, the marina needs to be updated with new boat slips and other improvements. Hosler hopes that a state or federal grant will be available to help make this happen. This needs the area's attention and it must be resolved.
The "ugly" portion dealt more with sewage and other unwanted wastes being dumped into the Great Lakes. While Davenport highlighted several sewage spills brought to light through media hype in the Black Rock Canal and the Niagara River the past year, it is still only a small part of the problem.
"It is estimated that 24 to 42 billion gallons of raw sewage spills into the Great Lakes every year," Davenport said. Much of it is due to antiquated water treatment systems. Impacts include biological contaminants creating algae blooms, E.coli outbreaks closing beaches, a rise in pharmaceutical and microplastic contamination, as well as general health impacts to the community.
When people have finished a prescription and no longer need it, the first thing many do is to flush it down the toilet. It's been documented that recorded levels of contamination in fish due to this pharmaceutical dumping have been increasing, creating a whole new set of problems.
"While the levels of older industrial chemicals continue to decrease, the presence of new contaminants such as from pharmaceuticals continues to increase," said Davenport. The United States makes up 6 percent of the world's population but we consume 80 percent of all prescription painkillers. What effect will this have on the fish living in the water and on humans as we drink it?"
State Assemblyman Andy Goodell from Chautauqua raised another big concern during the VIP Day. He alerted Davenport to a new bill (A9806A) that had been introduced into the Assembly (and since passed) — an act to amend the navigation law, requiring all individuals operating a boat in New York to have completed a boating safety course.
There were very few exclusions, complicating the problem even more. The bill made its way to the Senate but was not voted on due to concerns from upstate. It will be back for consideration when the legislative body returns for its regular session in 2019.
The bill was written after the death of an 11-year-old girl (Brianna Lieneck) in Long Island Sound because of a boating collision. This was a tragedy, no question. The bill points out that there were 22 boating fatalities in 2016, half of which were alcohol- or drug-related. There are nearly 450,000 registered power boats in the state and no telling how many come in from out of state or other countries. By requiring everyone to take a safe boating class, it may educate boaters as to what the laws are.
According to state law, all jet-ski operators must successfully complete an ABS Safe Boating Course before they can operate one. Anyone born on or after May 1, 1996 must have a boating safety certificate and be at least 10 years of age to operate a vessel in the Empire State. This course is eight hours long. Do you think someone who has owned and operated a boat for decades should have to take a safe boating class?
There were no exemptions for fishing tournaments. Imagine if we dropped that on FLW or BASS to let them know that every one of their participants would need to complete a safe boating course before they have an event here, including the professionals that make a living at this.
How about the Fall Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) Derby going on right now? With over 6,000 entries from all over the country, how would you even let them know that before they can fish here they need to pass a boating safety course? This would have a huge economic impact on New York's fishing and boating-related businesses, not to mention loss of fishing license sales earmarked for the Conservation Fund that supports fisheries-related programs.
These are just a few of the scenarios. There are more. Your best bet is to contact your local state senator and let them know how you feel about the proposed bill (S9092). The sponsor of the bill is Sen. Phil Boyle of Long Island.
We must remain engaged and keep informed about what is happening around us. We must do everything we can to keep our lakes great.