Great Lakes Region

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.”

A fun day out on the Hopper with Captain Paul Pacholski. Image credit: CIGLR.

 

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.”

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