Celebrating Lake Erie on Earth Day

John Schaffner said it best when he said, “When it comes to Lake Erie, we are all environmentalists.”

Even though most people think Earth Day should be everyday, it is good to take time and celebrate the beauty of nature and enjoy the great things our area has to offer in the outdoors. The best natural resource we have here in Ottawa County is, undeniably, Lake Erie. In celebration of Earth Day, here are some facts about our Great Lake, Lake Erie.

Facts about Lake Erie from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

• Lake Erie is the twelfth largest lake in the world (in area) and its border includes four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio) and one Canadian Province (Ontario).

• Lake Erie is the southernmost, shallowest, warmest and most biologically productive of the five Great Lakes. These are part of the reasons it is the largest Great Lakes sport fishery.

• Ottawa County has 94 miles of coastline, followed by Erie County who has 68 miles, making Ottawa County the leader in length of Lake Erie shoreline.

• The Marblehead Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in Ohio and it’s the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes.

• Lake Erie has three basins: the western basin includes the islands area; the central basin extends from the islands to around Erie, PA, and Long Point, Canada; and the eastern basin extends from Erie, PA, to the east end of the lake.

• Lake Erie is about 241 miles long, about 57 miles wide at its widest, and has about 871 miles of shoreline. The length of Ohio’s shoreline is about 312 miles.

• The maximum depth of Lake Erie is 210 feet and occurs in the eastern basin. Average depths in the basins are: western, 24 feet; central, 60 feet; and eastern, 80 feet.

• 22,720 square miles of land (roughly the size of West Virgina) drain directly into Lake Erie; however, if the drainage areas of the upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan and Huron) are included, the total drainage area of Lake Erie is 263,650 square miles (which is a little under the size of Texas).

• Lake Erie has the retention/replacement time of 2.6 years, which is the shortest of the Great Lakes.

• Water flow from the Detroit River makes up 80 to 90 percent of the flow into the lake.

• The outlet for Lake Erie is the Niagara River; consequently it is Lake Erie that feeds water to Niagara Falls.

• Lake Erie was one of the first Great Lakes to be uncovered during the last retreat of the glacial ice.

• The oldest rocks from which the Lake Erie basin was carved are about 400 million years old and formed in a tropical ocean reef environment.

• Lake Erie and its shoreline are a major source of minerals. The largest sandstone quarry in the world is located in Amherst in Lorain County. Salt mines in Cuyahoga and Lake Counties extend out under Lake Erie and are an important source of revenue to the state. Sand, gypsum and limestone used for construction purposes are found in abundance. Large reserves of natural gas, over 3 trillion cubic feet, are located under Lake Erie.


Lake Erie algae

I’ve lived on Catawba Island since 1960 and have fished most of those years. I received my Charter Captain’s License in 1980 and started in earnest catching walleye and small mouth bass. Back then you could catch 20-30 small mouth bass in a day’s charter around the islands. I don’t think one could catch half as many in a week now. Ten fish used to be a daily limit of walleyes; 60 fish could be caught in half a day. Running two-a-days was the norm for most captains until the zebra mussels came in and devastated the walleye population, eliminating all the reef fishing. Nobody did anything to fix this situation, to this date, other than a lot of “discussions”. 

While we were wringing our hands, the quagle mussel came in and out numbered the zebra ten to one; they are still thriving on the shoreline. Five years ago the walleye were beginning to leave the western basin; you had to go into Canadian waters to get a decent catch of 10-12 fish. Three years ago they were almost non-existent in American waters. Factory farms moved into Lenawee County, Michigan, with 20,000 dairy cows and 10,000 pigs per farm dumping their waste products onto the farm land they bought.

Field tiles to ditches to streams to Lake Erie had nothing to do with the algae problems being experienced in the western waters of Lake Erie. In 2013 I turned down dozens of charters because of terrible fishing. I wouldn’t take their money for 2-5 fish in a day’s trolling on the American side. The green soup that was out there the past few years just disgusted me to the point that I sold my 30’ Baha Cruiser boat in October and let my license expire.

Herl’s Harbor used to have 12 charter boats docked there. When I left there was only one. West Harbor used to have a continuous line of charter boats leaving Captain’s Cove Marina for a day of fishing on the lake and last year there were a pitiful few that went out. I ran three trips last year because my customers couldn’t believe what I was telling them. July 30 we caught four walleye for seven hours of trolling; Aug. 15, three walleye; Oct. 2, 17 perch for three guys and we fished everywhere. I only charged them $300 a trip. Running to Rondeau Bay for fish was not my cup of tea.

Wisconsin DNR ran an article on dioxins, fluorinated compounds and blue green algae. Blue green algae can produce toxins that are harmful to fish. Eating these fish can cause health risks largely unknown. Green pea soup, green or blue paint they described on the water is what I’ve seen in Lake Erie. They recommend, “Choose another water to fish.” I took their advice. Remember the thousands of walleye that washed up on the shore in the Catawba area two years ago? The official reason was stress? Really? This lake is not going to fix itself. Are you going to wait for sickness and poisoning before someone takes some positive action to fix it?

Philip Gutkoski
Port Clinton


Farmers hear why and how they can help heal Lake Erie

Jeff Reutter, Director of Ohio Sea Grant, reports on the health of Lake Erie.

On the same day that the Ohio House of Representatives Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee gave unanimous approval to SB150, the Nutrient Management Bill requiring farmers to have state certification to apply synthetic or chemical fertilizers to the land, the Lake Erie Farm Forum and Conservation Fair were held at Ottawa County Fairgrounds near Oak Harbor. 

At the forum, hosted by Mike Libben of the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District (OSWCD), speakers addressed the health and importance of Lake Erie and how farmers can voluntarily help to heal the lake and prepare for meeting the standards that will be enforced in 2017.

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