Western Lake Erie fishing
Great Lakes coastal areas – home to over 30 million people in the U.S. and Canada – are highly dynamic environments, subjected to natural fluctuations in water levels, wind, waves and temperatures. These variable conditions are intensified by climate change, resulting in flooding, erosion and storm surge that pose hazards for public safety, private property and ecosystem services. Coastal communities are vulnerable to climate impacts stemming from upstream watersheds (e.g., increased frequency and severity of flooding) and the Great Lakes (e.g., increasing severity of storm damage). Impacts to individual coastal communities vary depending on physical and ecological variables and on the design and capacity of urban infrastructure and water management systems. Natural Great Lakes water level fluctuations (seasonal and interannual) combined with ground water levels influence the amount of direct impact from flooding and storm damage on built infrastructure and natural systems.
Since 1958, days with heavy precipitation have increased over the region by 31%. Climate models predict this trend to continue in the Great Lakes, with wild swings between heavy rain events and severely dry conditions. Projected increases in frequency and intensity of spring storm events will result in more sediment and nutrient runoff from upper watershed agricultural fields, resulting in poorer water quality and reduced function in Lake Erie riverine and coastal wetlands. Increased incidence of summer harmful algal blooms will lead to fish kills, reduced recreation and tourism opportunities (swimming, boating, birding), and tainted drinking water.
Fishing industry: Commercial and recreational fishing contribute substantially to region’s economy. Although the scale of the fishery in Lake Erie is impressive, it is only three-quarters of its historical size, as it faces pressure from over-fishing (mostly historic), pollution, habitat destruction and fragmentation (due to dams and other barriers), and exotic species. Native migratory fish use the tributaries and wetlands around western Lake Erie for a portion of their life cycle as well as the warm, shallow waters of western Lake Erie for spawning and nursery habitat. Recreational fishing generates $1.4 billion annually in western Lake Erie. The commercial fishery in US and Canadian waters generate large annual revenues as well – $4.6 million in the U.S. and $33 million in Canada (where walleye is fished commercially).
Drinking water and recreation: Lake Erie supplies drinking water to 11 million residents with roughly 59 billion gallons of surface water withdrawn every day. Parks and beaches provide access to nature and recreational opportunities during every season, contributing more than million annually. There are more than 2.5 million boats registered in the region. Nearly 300 shipwrecks, managed as a public trust, serve as important historical and cultural resources that bring annual diving and boat tourism to the area. Waterfowl hunting is an important driver of coastal wetland management; many public and privately owned wetland areas are managed primarily to provide opportunities to hunt waterfowl. Some private hunt clubs in western Lake Erie exceed 150 years in age. The success of these recreational activities depends on clean, accessible water. Hunting for other wildlife, including white-tailed deer and small game, also influences habitat management in the region. Birding is a big contributor to the local economy; surveyed stakeholders identified birding as the number one ecosystem service provided by Lake Erie as it brings tens of millions of dollars annually to the region.
Habitats and Species
Native migratory fish habitat: Walleye, lake whitefish and lake sturgeon are important native migratory fish that spawn throughout western Lake Erie, which is also the most popular sport fishing destination throughout the Great Lakes. The region supports a sport and recreational fishery estimated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It is recognized for its world-renowned walleye fishery as well as for yellow perch, smallmouth bass and steelhead. Lake and stream habitat maintenance is crucial to sustain fish populations in the basin and support these socioeconomically valuable fisheries. Migratory fish habitat in streams is mostly cut off from Lake Erie by failing or poorly designed road-stream crossings and other structures. With increasingly common and intense storms, water quality in streams and the nearshore of Lake Erie will degrade. Excess sediments and nutrients will further degrade spawning and nursery habitat for migratory fish, impacting recreational and commercial fishing activities and local economies.