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CLA to have fully staffed Boat Stewart Program

The Chautauqua Lake Association will have a fully-staffed Boat Steward Program this summer.

Funded through a state grant, the steward program should be fully staffed soon 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 Lake, 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.”

The 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 the state, boat launches weren’t monitoring boat traffic at such levels. In 2016, the state awarded more than $2 million in grants from the EPA throughout the state. The CLA received $100,000 for a three-year program and in 2019 was awarded a similar three-year grant.

“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% of which were fishing boats and 38% of which were recreational. In 2019 alone, stewards saw 9,897 watercraft and educated 19,801 boaters. According to state 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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