My work on Lake Erie issues will always be inspired by commercial fisherman, Frank Reynolds, who died recently.
Frank was the most knowledgeable person about the waters and fish of Maumee Bay. He was vigilant, watching these waters year round, observing and taking pictures of dead fish, foam, discoloration and more. He would take pictures and share them with me and the Lake Erie Center. This quiet gentle man was an engineer who chose to fish rather than go to an office everyday.
I met Frank sometime in the 1990's when we worked on where to place dredged sediments from the Toledo shipping channel. The area for the sediments was filling up. Neighbors formed the Maumee Bay Association which evolved into Western Lake Erie and now Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Inc. Frank frequently attended the monthly meetings and testified at hearings. He was the first president of the Waterkeeper and permanently became President Emeritus.
|Frank Reynolds cheking his fish net.
(Press file photo by Ken Grosjean)
Frank would come over regularly with an old study about the number of perch/fish or reports about monitoring Maumee Bay. He complained about the noise and emissions from the FirstEnergy Bayshore power plant when they added the pet coke unit. He talked to BP about its intake fish kills. He was concerned about blowing taconite that put red dust on many homes in his neighborhood. He was one of the first people to report the “fish flu” that killed many fish. He was the eyes of Maumee Bay. He would inform - I would report.
Frank testified at open lake disposal and other hearings. He attended the annual Great Lakes Fishery Commission meetings and complained about the failure to count fish in Maumee Bay and the Maumee River. The counts started near Metzger Marsh, missing the huge Maumee fishery. His observations were underscored and enhanced by charterboat captain Paul Pacholski, who told me that he had to take Ohio Department of Natural Resources staff out in his boat to physically see the walleye spawning in large numbers in Maumee Bay before they believed the walleye spawned here.
Frank knew all the players who helped the bay/lake recover in the 1970's and 1980's. He regularly took Peter Fraleigh, for whom the University of Toledo Lake Erie Center is named, out sampling in the bay. But fish kills at the Bayshore plant were Frank’s primary concern. I always found it ironic that at the same time the ODNR kept reducing catchable allowances and locations for commercial fishermen, the more than one billion larval fish and 55 million small fish killed annually received no ODNR or Ohio EPA assessment for more than 30 years. Frank met with Ohio EPA and ODNR administrators and Ohio elected officials to look at the number of fish killed in the Bayshore intake but it fell on deaf ears.
Frank would often bring a jar of larval fish to the Waterkeeper meetings that he said he 'scooped up ' in the Bayshore power plant intake that day. He would talk about millions of fish getting pulled into the intake through large holes in screens that failed to protect the fish. After three years of hearing his frustration on getting something done about the fish kills, I made a permit request to Ohio EPA and found that the 1970's permit was routinely renewed every five years with no studies or questions. When I asked for a copy of the original permit. I was told it was confidential. Mayor James Haley tried to get it, the plant refused. Six months later Ohio EPA provided a copy of the permit which verified the massive fish kills. Frank was right.
In 2004, we had a press event where Frank took reporters on his boat and showed them the intake where the fish are killed and cast a net that brought in fish headed for death in the intake. This was front page news in the Blade the next day and the story was on television as well.
Finally the fish kills were getting attention. At about the same time, fish kills in power plant intakes were getting attention on the east coast which resulted in Clean Water Act requirements to assess and reduce the kills.
Here are some excerpts from testimony Frank made at a fish kill hearing by Ohio EPA in 2009:
"I have lived and worked (out of my fisheries buildings) within a half-mile of the plant 17 years before the Bayshore plant was built in 1951. The following comments are based on my experience as a commercial fisherman, fisheries specialist, and biological researcher. My comments focus on the need for building a cooling tower(s) ....
“The Bayshore power plant has killed fish, degraded the Maumee Bay waters, spawning grounds, nursery and general food supply. Before 1952, the nearshore area in Maumee Bay was a ... prosperous commercial and sports fishing area for yellow perch, bass, carp and catfish which continued until about 1968. After 1952 there were smaller and smaller catches until in 1968 ODNR closed commercial fishing in Maumee Bay. In the 15 years from 1952 to 1968, the loss of fish in Maumee Bay was significant.
In 1953 just after the Bayshore intake channel was dug, I commercially fished at the end of the channel where the water was 28’ deep...to allow coal boats to unload. Yellow perch were so abundant, I could not sell my whole catch. At that time the power plant was a single unit and used about a quarter of the water it uses today. Yellow perch were so abundant in the intake channel that they clogged the power plant intake screens many times and nearly caused the plant to shut down. The yellow perch problem in the intake screens went on for about nine months a year.”
Today three of the four units at Bayshore are closed, mainly because of competition from natural gas. Frank did not live to see the numbers of fish come back. An email from a Waterkeeper member summarizes my feelings, "Someone once said that every time a person dies it's like a library of unique and precious books burning down. Frank’s books were dedicated to Maumee Bay/Lake Erie and I'll miss him."
I will be asking the waterkeeper board for ways to always remember Frank and his worthy work.