Anglers on Chautauqua Lake are Putting Up a Fight to Protect Aquatic Plants

A healthy habitat that includes aquatic plants is essential for a healthy fishery. Muskie (Esox masquinongy). Photo by Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While the politicians, the lake organizations and property owners are fussing over fine points and slinging mud at each other, the fishermen are taking action. Scientific studies have revealed significant losses of plant biomass after 388 acres in Chautauqua Lake’s south basin were treated with herbicides last spring. Despite what should urge caution toward additional herbicide applications this year, lakeside communities plan to move forward with permit applications to continue destroying aquatic plants and threatening weed beds that are essential to Chautauqua Lake’s renowned fishery and to the entire Allegheny watershed.

Fishermen are on the lake all the time. They know it well. They know the contours of the shoreline, the inlets and rivulets, the weedy areas and the deep holes. They know the lake in sunshine and in shadow, in the misty dawn and the calm at dusk. They know the winds, the storm patterns, and the delicate changes of season.

They know that the bottom is barren in a large section of the south basin because they see it on their sonar and with their eyes. They don’t need to wait until the politicians deem a study credible to know that if you want to catch fish through the ice this winter, you’ll be luckier north of Long Point. They don’t need an Op-Ed in the newspaper to find their boats covered with blue-green algae after an afternoon of angling, or to know that stuff is hard to get off a hull.

Here, they’re tired of waiting for the rest of us to catch up, and have started a petition to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation asking for relief. They are asking the DEC to put the brakes on and to stop broad based applications of herbicides this year. They want to maintain the healthy ecology of the lake to ensure the fish are protected, which helps the water, which helps the insects, which helps the birds, the bats, and all of us people.

Petition for protection of Chautauqua Lake fisheries

I request New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to exercise its sole authority to better protect the century old national legacy of muskie & multi-species fisheries in Chautauqua Lake and to not permit extensive applications of chemical herbicides which destroy
critical submerged offshore habitat.

I endorse the following fishery safety protections from herbicides:

  1. Impose Strict Controls to protect all Submerged Milfoil & Curly LeafPondweed in greater than 6’ lake depths
  2. No Applications before June 24
  3. No Liquid Use (Granular Only)
  4. No Navigation Channel Use
  5. Spot Herbicide Use Only.

Author: Beth Peyton

Beth Peyton’s first book, Clear Skies, Deep Water: A Chautauqua Memoir, was published by SUNY Press in 2014. She lives in Bemus Point, New York.

6 thoughts on “Anglers on Chautauqua Lake are Putting Up a Fight to Protect Aquatic Plants”

  1. Thank you Beth, for your eloquent and powerful piece, giving voice not only to the fisher-people but also to the fish and the underwater green gardens that sustain them! 💦🐠

    1. Hello Becky, I’m just wondering if you were on the south basin of the lake in the last few years? Specifically out from say The Rod & Gun Club? The weeds have been so thick in the south basin that one could almost walk on top of the water over to Elmhurst. And the same can be said for up in Mayville where the new Pops floating stage is set. Last year was a disaster for weeds in that area? Curious if you’ve seen these areas?

      1. Hi Chris. Yes, I’ve been in the South Basin many times over the years (my parents lived in Arnold’s Bay for decades), and yes, 2018 in the lower portion was an especially challenging milfoil situation due to many factors. Lake plants have many beneficial functions-they release oxygen, provide food, shelter, and structure for countless creatures… and yes, especially in warm, shallow , nutrient-rich waters, they can become ”excessive” and overgrow to nuisance conditions. But the widespread decimation of South basin weedbeds in 2019 after herbicide treatment has many concerned, me included, about the longer term ecological consequences, including loss of the sediment-anchoring function of now-missing lake plants, loss of habitat for young fish and invertebrates, impaired water quality, and possible exacerbation of algal growth, including that of Harmful algal blooms (HABs). Reducing nutrient-loading from the watershed, conserving upstream forests and stream side buffers, Lake-friendly landscaping, and many other proactive and preventive strategies are needed to reduce the “fueling” of nuisance plant and algae growth in the long term.🌿

  2. I am totally against your position. I am very pro herbicide use. It’s benefits to all lake users was demonstrated last summer especially in the south basin. In addition, there were NO ill effects pertaining to fishing. Again this was demonstrated last summer by fishermen.

    There are numerous natural weed growth in the lake that is native to the lake and that is not invasive; and the support the fish environment.

  3. I have talked with many fishermen and fisherwomen and all have said the fishing was good this last summer. The ‘fish kill’ of 2018 was caused by the weed mass. Fishermen and fisherwomen could not fish in 2018 because of the weed mass. Weeds are an essential element of the lake, but not the invasive weeds that were killed.

  4. So many of you people can’t possibly know how herbicides will kill a fishery entirely in about 2-3 years when allowed to go beyond targeted and permitted areas. Herbicides are good for clearing near shore areas, but only when properly controlled, but also create a real disaster when overused or misused to destroy submerged deep water beds that not only protect the fish, but other living things that keep the algae to a minimum and long term fishing good. So the real message here from a guy who has spent 100 days a year on-the-water for 7 decades is “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR”!

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