We asked Ohioans to tell us why Sea Grant matters to them. We’re sharing their stories in our new series #WhySeaGrant
When the weather is good, charter boat captain Dave Spangler takes his boat out on Lake Erie almost every day. Using that time to help Ohio Sea Grant solve the problem of harmful algal blooms is an obvious choice for the small business owner, whose love for the lake is evident as he speaks passionately about being on the water and helping his clients catch fish.
“Even if I wasn’t out running charters, I would be out there anyway,” Spangler says. “We know that’s a pretty fragile ecosystem out there, and we know that if we let things go, it will be what it was many, many years ago, back in ‘the dead lake,’ as they call it.”
So each week, he spends a few minutes taking a water sample and noting the time, date, weather conditions and location. Ohio Sea Grant staff pick up and process samples from Spangler and about 10 other charter boat captains and provide the captains with data on previous weeks’ water quality results.
It’s a great partnership, says Spangler, who is also vice president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Captains Association, which helps recruit new captains to take samples. It’s a win-win situation: Ohio Sea Grant scientists get water samples from locations all over the Western Basin, and the boat captains appreciate the opportunity to get up-to-date water quality information and talk to their clients about harmful algal blooms and the health of the lake.
“Over the season we probably see well over 150 people from wherever they may be that will get a little bit of an education about Lake Erie and the issues that we have,” Spangler says. The health of the lake is paramount, in his mind, and partnering with Ohio Sea Grant on the sampling program is the best way for him to contribute to protecting it.
“I want it to stay in great shape for future use. That’s why we do what we do. We do it for free. We run it on our own boats. We want to do this,” he says. “The more data that the scientists get, the better shot we’ve got of fixing the problem.”
The water sampling program is just part of the strong relationship between LECBA and Ohio Sea Grant. For years the two groups have worked together to put on the annual Ohio Charter Captains Conference, held each March to help captains prepare for the upcoming season. Conference speakers provide information on the fishing outlook, environmental conditions, licensing, regulations and business management.
“We get up-to-date information on the fishery and the hatches, that way we can pass that along to our clients,” Spangler says. Approximately 96 percent of those who attended the 2017 conference said they learned about Lake Erie and natural resource issues, recreation or tourism opportunities there. More than two-thirds of those who attend report an increase in their bottom line due to what they learned, sparking $2 million in profit to the charter captain industry annually.
Through Spangler’s involvement with Ohio Sea Grant over the last several years, he has developed a deep appreciation for the outreach and education the organization does, especially at Stone Laboratory, where students in grades 5 and older take field trips and classes covering facets of earth science, biology and sustainability.
“We really need to have them here,” Spangler says of Ohio Sea Grant. “The teaching that they do, from the little kids to the seniors, it’s just a fantastic program that needs to stay operational. I don’t know what we would do without them. I don’t see any organization or anyone else taking up what they do.”