CLA’s Boat Steward Program Enters Its Fifth Year

The Chautauqua Lake Association is tasked with providing efficient and effective maintenance services for all Chautauqua Lake users. Part of that is to provide educational services to the community about the ecosystem and environmental lake management practices.

This summer marks the fifth straight year that the CLA’s Boat Steward Program has helped educate the public on spread prevention. Funded through a NYS grant, the Steward program hopes to be fully staffed this week. The intention of the program is to educate boaters and prevent the spread of unwanted aquatic invasive species throughout New York state. There are stewards at seven public boat launches on Chautauqua Lake, as well as in Cassadaga, Barcelona, and the Dunkirk harbor.

“The very first thing a steward does is visually inspect your boat and trailer, then enter what kind of boat you have and what state you’re from,” said Heather Nolan-Caskey, supervisor of the program. “The stewards check fishing versus recreation boats, and whether you’re launching or retrieving.”

This database maps out the frequent routes boaters use in order to prevent an invasive species from being passed from one waterway to another. Many waterways in New York state not only have stewards, but require every boat to be washed before their visit. “We use a database that is statewide for spread prevention measures,” said Nolan-Caskey. “It helps us see what activity the boaters are doing. It helps us to see the pattern across the state.”

Before the 2016 grant from NYS, boat launches weren’t really monitoring on this level. In 2016, the state awarded over $2M in grants from the EPA throughout the state. The CLA received $100,000 for this 3-year program, and in 2019 the CLA was re-awarded this grant.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated in his address when awarding these EPA grants, “New York state is home to unparalleled natural beauty and we must do everything we can to protect it from invasive aquatic predators. This money will help safeguard lakes and rivers in every corner of this state, protect local ecosystems, and ensure that visitors can experience New York’s natural beauty and wonders for years to come.”

“This program is purely educational,” said Nolan-Caskey. “You have the right to refuse the survey. The goal is to educate the public so that they will be doing this on their own without the stewards. Chautauqua Lake has invasices, as does Cassadaga and Lake Erie. There are some things in nearby waterways – Pennsylvania, Tonawanda Creek – that are highly aggressive and we don’t want to bring them back to this area. We should do everything we can to keep our waters safe.”

In the first three years of the program from 2016-2018, stewards saw 15,242 boats: 60 percent of which were fishing boats, 38 percent recreational, and 2 percent other. In 2019 alone, stewards saw 9,897 watercraft and educated 19,801 boaters. According to NYS law, any boat or trailer found on a public road with weeds on it is punishable by fines up to $500.

“The lake is the asset of our community. It’s the reason we have visitors here. It’s the reason most of us locals live here,” Nolan-Caskey said. “I think we should be doing everything we can to keep it as nice as we can.”

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