International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 5: Ecology and International Governance of Lake Erie’s Percid Fisheries

Edward F. Roseman, Roger L. Knight, Elizabeth Wright, Donald Einhouse, Kevin Kayle, Kurt Newman, and Rickalon L. Hoopes

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch5

Walleye Sander vitreus and yellow perch Perca flavescens populations are critical components of Lake Erie’s economically and socially valuable commercial and recreational fisheries. These fisheries contribute billions of dollars to the economies of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan and the province of Ontario (Lichtkoppler 1997). Lake Erie percids support commercial and recreational fisheries in both Canada and the United States, with primarily commercial fisheries in Ontario and recreational fisheries dominating in the United States (Lloyd and Mullen 1991; Lichtkoppler 1997). Overall, lakewide walleye and yellow perch harvests have averaged about 20 million pounds annually since 1975 (roughly 10 million lbs per species). Percid fisheries support roughly 200 commercial operations and over a million recreational fishers each year. Commercial fisheries produce the bulk of the overall percid harvests, with the majority of the netting effort being directed at yellow perch. Sport fishery effort was directed primarily at walleye (Lichtkoppler 1997) although effort for yellow perch is increasing in recent years.

Stresses to the Lake Erie environment are well-chronicled and include impacts from eutrophication, poor land-use practices, industrial pollution, effects of urban sprawl due to increasing human population growth, and overfishing (Hartman 1973; Rosa and Burns 1987; Koonce et al. 1996a). Cumulatively, these impacts have had both direct and indirect impacts on the fish community and the Lake Erie ecosystem has responded to these stresses in both predictable and unpredictable ways. For example, loss of reproductive habitat and overfishing contributed to predictable losses of sensitive percids such as sauger Sander canadensis and blue pike Sander vitreus glaucus (Regier and Hartman 1973; Nepszy 1977; Nepszy et al. 1991). Regulation of exploitation by interjurisdictional management programs led to the recovery and development of present-day percid fisheries (Hatch et al. 1987). In addition, increased phosphorous concentrations led to predictable increases in noxious algal blooms and associated turbidity through the mid-1970s, while regulation of phosphorous loads via the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) led to predictable declines in blue-green algae and decreased turbidity in the 1980s (El-Shaarawi 1987; Makarewicz and Bertram 1991). Conversely, the addition of nonnative species to the aquatic community, like dreissenid mussels, round gobies Apollonia melanostoma, and white perch Morone americanus, have had unpredictable influences on native biota, and the effects of these introductions are still being realized (Mills et al. 1994; Jude and DeBoe 1996).