CFA Voices Concern Over Loss Of Habitat

The view of Chautauqua Lake from a private dock in Lakewood. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

The Chautauqua Fishing Alliance has written a letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, asking it for consideration in regard to recent herbicide applications the CFA is saying has destroyed up to 1,000 acres of fish habitat in Chautauqua Lake.

Five areas of 81 total acres of the lake were treated with Aquathol K and Navigate in mid-June. Afterwards, the CFA conducted weed surveys with the Chautauqua County Fishery Advisory Board. Sonar scans of lake beds compared to pre-treatment scans revealed that weed species, even those beyond just the invasive Eurasian milfoil and curlyleaf pondweed, had disappeared. The weeds, including the invasive species, provide cover and habitat for most of the fish species in the lake. Low amplitudes of sonar waves depict the lack of weed beds that provide habitat for fish in Chautauqua Lake. Scans indicate the disappearance of weed habitats both within and outside the areas that were sprayed

While only relatively small areas of the lake in Shermans Bay in Busti, Sunrise Cove and Bly Bay in North Harmony and Bemus Bay and Sunset Bay in Ellery were sprayed, the CFA is observing “entire portions of littoral zones” with no habitat for fish. Herbicides leaking into unpermitted areas could be caused by wind currents and lake springs.

The spraying of herbicides has been a divisive issue on Chautauqua Lake. For some recreationalists like swimmers and boaters, spraying has been lauded in areas approved to be sprayed by municipalities Ellery, Busti and North Harmony. The lack of weeds clears up near-shore areas and helps boaters sustain hassle-free trips.

The CFA is not against herbicide applications in near-shore areas either. It wants to make sure that fish habitat is not destroyed by SOLitude, the company that sprayed, following the DEC’s permits that state herbicides can only be sprayed up to 200 feet from the shore or until a six-feet depth is reached, whichever comes first.

“We wish to share the lake, not be forced from it,” said Regis Thompson II, CFA executive director. “We are an alliance and network of lakefront property owners who enjoy fishing.”

Their three main desires as a group is that near-shore standards of spraying are followed, spraying does not occur before the end of June and no herbicides are sprayed in undeveloped areas including wetlands. A late date in June for spraying is requested in order to protect spawning fish. Bass and panfish spawning were still taking place when herbicides were sprayed June 11 and 12.

Another concern regarding weed removal is the health of the fish. Pondweed and milfoil serve as habitat but also as sources of oxygen. When various weed species are killed off in areas, the fish are forced to survive in an environment Thompson said they are suffocating in but won’t die, which explains the lack of dead fish floating on the surface. Weeds also provide cover for fish hiding from predators.

Another CFA board member, Ed Crum, and DEC-licensed fishing guide and owner of Chautauqua Reel Outdoors, Mike Sperry, said they are proud and glad to be connected with what they call a “world-class fishery.” They expressed concern with how much damage to fish habitats they’ve already observed with only 81 acres treated. They are worried what might happen with a potentially more successful and wide-spread herbicide application in 2019.

“A lot of the fishing people who come in are concerned,” Sperry said. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of concern.”

“Extensive damage to the fishery has been done,” Thompson said.

At his Fairmount Avenue store, Sperry said he has received dozens of customers complaining about fewer fish to catch and the apparent disappearance of fish in some spots. Chautauqua Lake has been highly rated in the country for its bass and muskie fishing. Sperry said those species particularly like curlyleaf pondweed.

Thompson said that although the Chautauqua County Fishery Advisory Board, Chautauqua County Federation of Sportsmen, Erie County Fishery Advisory Board and Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association also endorse the three goals of near-shore sustainability for herbicide spraying to avoid loss of fish habitat, “it is a David and Goliath feeling” trying to protect the fish and the industry they power. He does not think near-shore limits should be criticized and should be followed for the protection of the fish.

“(Weeds) are so fundamental to the fishery,” Thompson said. “There’s a way to share the lake. We’re interested in sharing the lake, not being pushed out of it.”