Mercury weighing heavily on lake lovers
Bait shop owner joins call for tighter controls
By Tom Henry
Published August 18th, 2004
Gary Lowry has a vested interest in Lake Erie. As owner
of Maumee Bait & Tackle, his livelihood depends on
But Ohio is currently the nation’s No. 2 state in mercury
emissions into the air behind only Texas, according to
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records. So as concerns
about mercury settling on the Great Lakes have become
a prominent issue, Mr. Lowry has found himself immersed
in the topic.
He’s joined others — from young environmental activists
to high-ranking public officials in at least eight Eastern
states, plus California, New Mexico, and Wisconsin — in
calling for tighter air pollution controls on coal-fired
power plants that emit mercury into the air.
“Sportfishing is the backbone of Lake Erie’s travel and
tourism industry,” he said during a conference call yesterday.
“We need to protect our beautiful lake areas for ourselves
and our future generations to come.”
In a follow-up interview with The Blade, he urged people
to toss aside party politics and stop looking at the lakes
as just a symbol of environmental activists. Lake Erie
and its four sisters provide critical drinking water to
millions as well as commercial and recreational boating
and fishing opportunities.
As airborne mercury emissions settle on the lakes, they
are absorbed by fish and enter humans through the food
chain. Excessive mercury exposure can lead to brain and
nervous system problems in humans, especially in children.
“I’d hate to see Lake Erie go down the tubes,” Mr. Lowry
Last year was Lake Erie’s best for spawning prized walleye
and yellow perch since the mid-1980s, according to the
Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
But fears are rising that airborne mercury is getting
worse and polluting more fish, jeopardizing both public
health and tourism.
State health departments have posted fish-consumption
advisories for years throughout the Great Lakes region.
There is little evidence, however, of commercial and recreational
fishermen backing away from the lakes’ walleye, perch,
and other fish save for catch limits.
Sportfishing contributes $1.2 billion a year to Ohio’s
economy and $1.1 billion to Michigan, according to the
State Environmental Leadership Program, a nonprofit group
in Madison, Wis., that represents more than 50 environmental
organizations in several states.
But Mr. Lowry and others are asking what happens if mercury
pollution gets worse and sportfishing declines a mere
Ohio would take a $61 million annual hit to its economy
and Michigan would take a $56 million annual hit to its
economy. Reduce sportfishing by 25 percent and the numbers
are staggering: A $308 million loss annually for Ohio
and a $280 million annual loss for Michigan, said Keith
Reopelle, the Leadership Program coordinator.
“The answer to the mercury problem is clearly not to
fish less but to reduce mercury pollution at the source,”
Joining him and Mr. Lowry on the conference call were
representatives of the Ohio Environmental Council, the
Michigan Environmental Council, the Izaak Walton League’s
Midwest office in St. Paul, Minn., the Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation, and Don Holecek, director of the Michigan
Travel, Tourism and Recreation Resource Center at Michigan
State University, a program established in 1985 to research
Michigan’s tourism industry.
“It could be said that Michigan’s extensive tourism industry
has grown on water resources,” Mr. Holecek said. Among
other things, Michigan ranks No. 1 in the nation for registered
Coal-fired plants for years have been among the nation’s
largest collective sources of mercury. The U.S. EPA only
recently announced plans to tighten air pollution controls
on coal plants, but activists said they are frustrated
that the Bush administration would give utilities until
2018 to phase in some of the requirements.
Contact Tom Henry at:email@example.com 419-724-6079.