- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

TOLEDO, OHIO (AP) - Officials along Lake Erie are weighing whether to implement a system that would warn anglers to stay off unsafe ice, something that was not in place last month when 130 fishermen were stranded on an ice floe.

Other states have similar policies, and supporters think putting out advisories when conditions are dangerous in Ohio will increase safety and cut down on costly ice rescues.

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates it spent more than $245,000 and a sheriff said his county spent $20,000 to rescue the fishermen Feb. 7 after a miles-wide ice floe broke free and floated from shore. One man died that day, although his relatives say he was not on the ice floe.

“Everyone recognizes something has to change,” said Dennis Murray, a state representative from Sandusky who is exploring legislation that would create a warning system.

Before introducing legislation, however, Murray wants to see if authorities along the lake and those from the fishing industry can come up with a solution. “They need to acknowledge there’s a problem,” Murray said.

Both sides met last week to talk about changes in policy.

Among the ideas being discussed are placing warning signs at popular fishing spots or posting advisories on fishing Web sites.

Many fishermen remain angry with Ottawa County Sheriff Robert Bratton, who said it was idiotic that some anglers built a makeshift bridge across the cracking ice last month.

Bratton said he wanted fishermen, guides and charter captains to help come up with a way of alerting anglers when the ice is dangerous. Many of those caught on the ice in early February were inexperienced and not from the area and therefore didn’t know there was a chance that strong winds and rising temperatures would break the ice apart, Bratton said.

The sheriff hopes to have a solution before ice fishing resumes next winter.

Maine, Arizona and New Mexico are among states that issue unsafe ice warnings when conditions warrant. In Minneapolis, the parks department posts “Thin Ice” signs to warn off fishermen.

In Ohio, the state Department of Natural Resources should have a role in issuing ice warnings, said Murray, a Democrat.

Some have noted that local authorities in Ohio already can close beaches in the summer when conditions are dangerous.

Also, the state puts up advisories in the summer warning swimmers of high pollution levels. In those cases, the state leaves it up to the swimmers to decide whether to go into the water.

Marc Hudson, president of the Western Basin Fishing Association in northern Ohio, agreed that a warning system would be a good idea. He said it was unfair that all the blame for what happened last month fell on the fishermen and that authorities who failed to warn them should share the responsibility.

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On the Net:

Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/

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