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Charter boat captain shares impacts of algal blooms on business

Lake Erie 2011 HAB from space
A European Space Agency (ESA) Envisat satellite captured harmful algal blooms in 2011 on Lake Erie from space.

Harmful algal blooms may leave lakes with a bright green or oily surface... it’s caused by an overgrowth of toxic cyanobacteria. Climate change is projected to increase blooms and expand their presence across Michigan.

Captain Paul Doute is a charter boat captain, and he’s been fishing on Lake Erie for more than 40 years.

But he’s recently noticed that algal blooms seem to be getting worse – to the point where he’s had to cancel trips or take passengers into Ohio or Ontario waters to fish.

“When I have customers out, they're seeing the algae bloom, and they're questioning me, ‘Hey, Paul, are these fish safe to eat? Can I actually interact with taking the fish out of the net, or taking them off the hook, right, without getting a rash or having something else happened to me?’” Doute said.

Doute said he hopes more can be done like - reducing farm runoff – to address the blooms.

According to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, algal blooms on Lake Erie cost Michigan charter boat companies and anglers between $2-6 million dollars in 2019.

Megan Tinsley is with the Michigan Environmental Council. She said the state needs to do more to reduce fertilizer runoff – which causes the blooms – and invest in wetland protection.

"It's got to be a combination of things, and it has to be bigger and bolder than what we've been doing," Tinsley said. "Because the evidence shows what we've been doing, the status quo is not improving the situation.”

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.