It’s Slime Time from north to south

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It matters not whether we’re looking at waterways in Michigan or Florida, this month might as well be declared “National Slime Month.” And, it may be the biggest threat to our industry’s continued growth in boat sales.

That was the consensus of nearly 40 area industry leaders at last week’s meeting of the Tampa Bay Marine Industry Association, a division of the Southwest Florida Marine Industry Association. “When prospective boaters see TV shots of hundreds of dead fish floating in thick green Guacamole,” said TBMIA chairman and Mastry Engine president Kevin Carlan, “it’s got to kill any chance of selling them a boat or the boating lifestyle.” The attendees agreed they must become more engaged in demanding appropriate actions on federal and state levels.

While both coasts of Florida are dealing with noxious green algae (the west side is being doubly pummeled with a big outbreak of red tide), the algae problems now exist throughout much of the nation. Lake Erie, the icon for water pollution in the late 1960s, has become iconic once again. It was triggered by the national news that a massive algae bloom in 2014 caused Toledo to shut down the city's drinking water supply from the lake for three days. It’s known that toxins produced by the algae can cause rashes, liver illness, vomiting, diarrhea, neurological effects, respiratory problems and even death. (So, buy a boat and take the kids out for a day on the lake!)

There are groups attempting to address the problem. For example, the National Marine Manufacturers Association has acknowledged a critical Everglades Plan that could get authorized in Congress. NMMA and 40 members are pressing for full authorization of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir in the 2018 Water Resources Development Act. NMMA is working with the Florida congressional delegation on updating the current language so that the project receives a full authorization. The EAA would address a major source of the algae problems on both Florida coasts. Moreover, there is also an active grassroots advocacy campaign via Boating United to urge Congress to act: https://www.votervoice.net/NMMA/Campaigns/60028/Respond

Similarly, there are groups working on Lake Erie’s debacle. One example is the nonprofit Lake Erie Foundation, created in 2016 by combining the Lake Erie Waterkeeper and Lake Erie Improvement Association. LEF aims to “create and maintain a healthy Lake Erie now and forever as defined by drinkable water, recreational contact and edible fish.”

LEF is working with researchers from the University of Maryland on the report card, which should be complete in 18 months. It has been groups like LEF, Lake Erie Marine Trades Association and the Boating Associations of Ohio, among others, that successfully demanded the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency declare the western basin of Lake Erie impaired, a designation that matches the Michigan portion of the lake.

“This now means they will be able to identify the biggest polluters,” said board member John Lipaj. “Ohio, Michigan, New York and Ontario have already agreed to reduce phosphorus discharges by 40 percent between 2015 and 2025. But so far, all efforts have been voluntary. The impaired designation may make some changes mandatory.”

Having lived and boated on Lake Erie for 40 years before relocating to Florida, I know those waters well. So I have had no doubt that the claim by Ohio’s environmental officials, since the 2014 Toledo water crisis, that voluntary measures would be sufficient to save the lake was ignoring the problem. The lack of any real progress has proven them wrong.

It’s no secret that the more than half the phosphorus that destroys western Lake Erie comes down the Maumee River and its watershed of 4.3 million farming acres. The area also includes huge livestock operations that generate large quantities of manure that’s spread on farm land and washed into adjacent streams and rivers. So far, changes in farming fertilizing operations have been proposed but all voluntary. That policy has failed.

What is needed, in Ohio and Florida and everywhere else that algae blooms are threatening boating and fishing, are mandatory measures that provide for real accountability. And all dealers--in fact all boating and fishing interests in any impacted areas--should be joining and supporting groups like the Lake Erie Foundation to become engaged in this much-needed effort. 

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