It was just a year ago that the region celebrated the 10th and final Bay Swim. The annual event celebrated the transformation of Presque Isle Bay from a toxic pool filled with human and industrial waste into a natural resource pure enough to plant your face in and swim. Each year participants would stroke across the more than 1-mile stretch from a parking lot at Presque Isle State Park to the Erie Yacht Club.
Organizers called off the event, in essence, because clean bay water had become old news.
This week brought a fresh — and delicious — reminder of the lasting payoff of the decades-long fight to clean up our waterways. The venerable Field & Stream magazine named Lake Erie to top “new” fishing spot in Pennsylvania and cited Erie as the hub specifically for hosting “healthy populations of numerous freshwater species, including panfish, walleyes, smallmouths, and steelhead.”
It credited the bounty to environmental initiatives. “Lake Erie has been more historically known for pollution than quality fishing. Slowly but surely, that has been changing, and Erie is currently firing on all cylinders. ... The flourishing fishery is a direct result of better water quality, which boosted the forage base,” it said.
Field & Stream drew up its list based on input from biologists, conservation officers, guides and professional and amateur anglers. Local experts, including Chuck Murray, the Lake Erie biologist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and charter boat operator Steve Small, affirmed the magazine’s findings, as detailed by Erie Times-News reporter Mike Copper. Small memorably described lake fish so plentiful this season as to be “fighting for the bait.”
This is news to celebrate and embrace. We know what they say about the relative merits of a bad day of fishing. What then does a good day of angling do for friendship and relaxation and the distinct pleasure of fried fresh walleye? Not just fun, sport fishing opportunities in Erie, including the steelhead fishery, generate millions for the local economy.
This is no time to let down our guard. Dangerous algal blooms fueled by fertilizer runoffs in the western Lake Erie basin continue. This month there have been worrisome blooms closer to home that have been deemed unsafe for pets. A 2017 joint U.S.-Canadian report said Lake Erie’s ecosystem is in “poor” condition and continues to deteriorate.
“Beach closures, habitat loss and degradation, and beach fouling in the eastern basin continue to be major concerns,? it said.
Erie’s federal lawmakers have consistently in bipartisan fashion supported funding for vital Lake Erie research and monitoring. The recognition of Lake Erie’s strengthening fishery validates those efforts. Keep up the good work.