An algae bloom on Lake Erie is wreaking havoc on fishermen already struggling with smaller catches and migrating fish.

Bobby Cabral has been fishing smelt and pickerel in Wheatley, Ont. for the past 20 years but believes blue-green algae in Lake Erie is making his job more difficult.

Algal blooms “are a very big problem for the commercial fishing industry in the west-end of Lake Erie,” says biologist Kevin Reid with the Commercial Fisheries Association of Ontario.

Smaller catches

Reid says harmful algal blooms are “a wicked problem” that can reduce catches even though the fish might still be there.

According to several experts, fish can more easily spot fishing nets covered in algae, resulting in lower catches for fishermen like Cabral.

“Then, you have the double whammy that the fouled gear has to be cleaned before it can be used again,” Reid said.

The problem appears to be getting worse.

“Within the last five years it’s been getting worse and worse and worse,” Cabral said.

Migrating fish

Fish are also moving further away from traditional fishing areas. Cabral and other fishermen have to travel further than before to fill their nets.

Cabral says fish are migrating away from Wheatley and are going northeast toward Port Stanley and Port Dover.

“The fish are running away from it [the algae] so we gotta go chase it further away from home,” Cabral said. “It’s costing us money and it’s not safe for the environment either.”

His concern is echoed by the Mayor of Pelee Island. Speaking to Windsor Morning’s Tony Doucette, Rick Masse says the issue of algae blooms really came to light two years ago during the Toledo water crisis.

“The problem is real,” Masse said. “It turns an awful lime green and sometimes blue. From there, that part isn’t so bad. When the organism or the cells die, it sends off a toxin.”


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