DUNKIRK – More than 50 anglers navigated Lake Erie in an armada of charter boats Wednesday morning, then capped the experience with a fish fry served up by the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club.
The occasion was the Great Lakes Experience Charter Fishing Day, held annually to promote fishing and Great Lakes tourism in Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.
“Lake Erie is everybody’s lake,” said Dick Smith, coordinator of the event and a former charter boat owner, who defined the outing as an opportunity to expose local officials and others to sport fishing with experienced boat captains and crews. “We want everyone to appreciate what a jewel we have here,” said Smith in welcoming remarks.
For the past three years, the charter boat captains have invited government and tourism groups to go fishing. The groups also took in a series of talks about maintaining the lake and promoting tourism and fishing.
Donald Einhouse of the state Department of Environmental Conservation provided statistics about the many sport fishing opportunities on Lake Erie and the varieties of fish available for the catching.
Helen Domske of the New York State Sea Grant Program talked about the recent algae blooms in the lake. She said that although communities in Ohio have been experiencing problems with toxic algae, the problem has not surfaced in the eastern portion of the lake.
Domske noted the lake’s waters off Chautauqua and Erie counties are deeper and there is more water movement, not conducive to toxic algae blooms.
“I am not saying it cannot happen, but chances are that we will avoid the problems in this area,” she said.
Rich Davenport of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen said that the financial impact of sport fishing in the area is huge and has great growth potential. He said that in the Cattaraugus Creek Harbor area last year, $6.7 million in revenue was attributed to sports fishing. He said the revenue includes spending on lodging, food, bait, fuel and launch fees.
Davenport noted more women are purchasing more and fishing licenses in a sport currently with a 73 percent male representation.
Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello, R-Silver Creek, also a chairman of the Lake Erie Fishing Advisory Commission, said officials are working to ensure that all small boat harbors in Chautauqua County have been dredged to make access easier for charter fishing boats and private crafts.
“I think the dredging is about to be a reality for Dunkirk and for the Cattaraugus Creek Harbor at Sunset Bay,” said Borrello, who expects to have final word on the funding for the lake dredging by Monday, when the Hanover Town Board meets.
The event was sponsored by Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, the DEC and several sports fishing groups.