Fisheries productivity in the Laurentian Great Lakes has changed dramatically over the past century. Invasions of non-native species and anthropogenically induced environmental changes in habitat quality and quantity have significantly altered the species composition and abundance of Great Lakes fishes, thereby affecting the social and economic well-being of coastal communities that rely on the good and services that these fishes provide. Our increased ability to locate, access, catch, preserve, and transport fish while modifying their habitats has resulted in the loss of native fish populations, which has profoundly impacted the ecological functioning and thus the productivity, structure, and services of Great Lakes ecosystems. Further, our lack of predictable scientific knowledge and control over factors affecting the productivity of the various Great Lakes fisheries, coupled with the failure of fisheries governance systems to manage these resources sustainably, have often left Great Lakes commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries and their local fishing communities impoverished and in disarray. In this paper, we discuss the environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic changes that have characterized the Great Lakes basin in the last century. We also share our perspectives and personal stories about the impacts of these changes on ecosystems, fisheries, and the local and regional communities and economies that depend on them for their health and well-being. A key lesson learned was, that if we are to ensure the integrity and productivity of Great Lakes fisheries in the future, we must become better stewards, possessing a more predictable scientific and ecosystem-based understanding of fishes and their habitats while communicating the value of fisheries in food, recreational opportunities, and the economic and social wealth of local communities. The fate of Great Lakes fisheries and the quality of life of the people who use these resources are inextricably linked and can only be sustained in productive, well-governed, and well-balanced fisheries managed holistically at the ecosystem level.
The Laurentian Great Lakes comprise the largest surface freshwater system in the world, spanning more than 753,000 km2 with a lacustrine surface area of >246,000 km2 (Tanner and Tody, 2002). The Great Lakes basin is home to diverse habitats that support numerous species, and it offers unique ecosystem services (e.g. fresh water, food) to people in and around the Great Lakes basin that should be conserved for the benefit of future generations. People have also taken pleasure in experiencing the sheer magnificence of the Great Lakes through various recreational experiences like fishing, boating, swimming, wildlife-viewing, and tourism (USFWS, 2016; USFWS, 2017). In the Great Lakes basin, fishing is an essential component of enhanced quality of life; commercial and subsistence fisheries provide food resources and livelihoods, and recreational fisheries provide popular ways for people to connect with nature, while all fisheries drive socioeconomic growth in local, regional, and even global communities (USFWS, 2017). On a national scale, including marine waters, commercial fishing (i.e. fishing for profit) alone contributes over $5.2 billion to the economy and supports approximately 1.2 million jobs, while recreational and subsistence fishing contributes over $122 billion to the economy and supports 440,000 jobs (NOAA, 2015). In the Great Lakes, in addition to their socioeconomic importance, fisheries are sentinels of ecosystem and societal resilience, as changes in fish community structure and production dynamics can alert us to unsustainable human activities occurring at multiple spatial and temporal scales, often before effects are visible in other ecosystems. Although Great Lakes fisheries have and will inevitably continue to experience changes over time, productive, resilient, and well-governed aquatic ecosystems and fish communities will continue to provide valuable ecosystem services and benefits to people. By highlighting the value (e.g. economic, cultural, social) of these ecosystem services and benefits, especially as they relate to the scope of today’s Great Lakes fisheries, aquatic ecosystem professionals and society, in general, have an opportunity to ensure that our privileges to use and enjoy well-functioning Great Lakes ecosystems in the future are not simply considered, but seen as essential.
Great Lakes fisheries: A shift from commercial to recreational
Historically, the Great Lakes system supported abundant populations of commercially-important fish species such as Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush), Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), deepwater ciscoes (e.g. Bloater [C. hoyi], Shortjaw Cisco [C. zenithicus]), Walleye (Sander vitreus), and Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens) (Taylor and Ferreri, 1999). Subsistence and commercial fisheries targeting these native fish stocks played a significant role in the settlement and food security of the region around the turn of the 20th century, and these ecologically and economically valuable fishes were heavily exploited until the mid-1900s (Taylor and Ferreri, 1999). However, at the same time, European settlement and associated anthropogenic changes on the land and in waterscapes (e.g. agricultural expansion, urbanization, damming, construction of canals) increased nutrient and heavy metal concentrations, blocked fish movement, quickened the invasion and spread of nuisance species (e.g. Sea Lamprey and Alewives), and degraded water quality throughout the Great Lakes basin, negatively affecting native fish production, health, and survival (Tanner and Tody, 2002; Hayes, 2013). For example, in Lake Erie, mercury contamination from coal-fired power plants, incinerator facilities, mines, paper mills, and other sources led to the closure of the Walleye fishery in 1970 due to human health concerns (Bhavsar et al., 2010; Baldwin et al., 2009). However, observed improvements in aquatic ecosystem health and enhanced fish quality linked to the passage of the Clean Water Act (1972) led to the re-opening of a recreational fishery for Walleye, which became the primary management focus for this species in this lake.
In addition to impacts on fish associated with changing aquatic ecosystem health and water quality, native Great Lakes fish communities were severely impacted by invasive species such as the parasitic Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), which spread from Lake Ontario to the other Great Lakes after completion of the Welland Canal in 1921 (Goddard, 2002). As a result of lamprey-induced mortality combined with overharvest and habitat degradation, Lake Trout – the keystone predator in the Great Lakes – became commercially extinct in lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, and Erie and significantly reduced in Lake Superior by the early 1960s (Mills et al., 1993; Tanner and Tody, 2002). In the absence of predation by Lake Trout, non-native Alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), which arrived in the upper Great Lakes through the Erie Canal became highly abundant in the Great Lakes basin during the 1950s and 1960s (Fig. 1). These fish became a nuisance species as they experienced food base shortages and unfavorable water temperature changes in the spring, resulting in massive die-offs of Alewives, which frequently plugged municipal and industrial water intakes and littered beaches in the late spring and early summer (Tanner, 2016). Dead Alewives were aesthetically undesirable, economically costly for municipalities and industries to clean up (> $100 million; Greenwood, 1970), and indicative of a forage fish population in need of predatory control. However, their presence also indicated the need for more socially-valued fisheries and associated infrastructure, which would provide for increased economic and social valuation of the local Great Lakes coastal communities, thereby enhancing their overall value as places to live and recreate.
Changing socioeconomic circumstances (e.g. improved transportation systems, increased incomes and vacation time) in the Great Lakes basin in the 1950s and early 1960s, combined with the changing ecological conditions described above, led to the decline of commercial fisheries harvesting native species (e.g. Lake Trout, Lake Whitefish) and the establishment and promotion of Pacific salmon-based recreational fisheries, beginning in the Michigan waters of the Great Lakes (Fig. 2). Millions of people within driving distance of these waters took advantage of improved and expanding road, rail, and air transportation networks, expendable incomes, and increased vacation time to visit the Great Lakes to fish recreationally and enjoy the beaches and beauty of coastal communities (Fig. 1; Tanner and Tody, 2002). During this time, due to changes in the native fishes’ habitats and Sea Lamprey predation on keystone predators (e.g. Lake Trout), native fish stocks continued to decline and commercial fishing became a relatively economically and politically weak enterprise in the Great Lakes basin. As such, fisheries management agencies began to aggressively focus their attention on the establishment of viable and productive recreational fisheries by introducing new species to the Great Lakes, including Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and Chinook Salmon (O. tshawytscha). Beginning in 1964, shipments of Coho Salmon eggs (>1 million) and Chinook Salmon eggs (>3 million) were sent to Michigan from hatcheries in Oregon and Washington (Crawford, 2001; Tanner and Tody, 2002). Fisheries professionals in Michigan reared these eggs into smolts, which they then released into tributaries of Lakes Michigan and Superior. After the mid-1960s, Chinook Salmon stocking expanded into Lakes Huron (1968), Ontario (1969), and Erie (1970) creating highly valuable recreational fisheries and supporting increases in boat sales, specialty fishing-related retail stores (e.g. rod, reel, tackle), a growing network of marinas and charter boat enterprises, and organizations dedicated to enhancing the use and conservation of fisheries resources (e.g. Michigan Salmon and Steelhead Association).
Stock enhancement efforts bolstered the abundance of Coho Salmon, Chinook Salmon, Atlantic Salmon, Steelhead (i.e. anadromous Rainbow Trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss), and Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) in the Great Lakes, thereby heightening public enthusiasm for Great Lakes recreational fishing, increasing angler catch and harvest rates, and fostering development of angling-based economies in the Great Lakes basin (Fig. 1; Tanner and Tody, 2002). Additionally, introduced salmonids provided a side benefit of predatory control on the Alewife populations in these waters, thereby minimizing Alewife die-offs in late spring and summer (Tanner, 2016). Salmonid stockings continue today but are reduced from historical levels as these fishes now reproduce naturally in many Great Lakes tributaries; one of the results of the Clean Water Act and of increased use of fish passage devices throughout the United States (U.S.) and Canada in the Great Lakes basin. Today, Coho Salmon, Chinook Salmon, and Steelhead are considered the most socioeconomically valuable fishes in the Great Lakes basin, and they support a recreational fishery that currently provides $7.2 billion in annual economic benefit and nearly 50,000 jobs (American Sportfishing Association, 2013; Melstrom and Lupi, 2013) in addition to important subsistence tribal fisheries and limited, but productive, commercial fisheries for non-game fishes (e.g. Lake Whitefish).
In the years after Coho Salmon and Chinook Salmon were introduced to the Great Lakes, fisheries and aquatic resource professionals realized that fisheries management approaches focused on single species were ineffective in addressing ecosystem-level issues (e.g. habitat loss, eutrophication, overexploitation) that were widely publicized amid the environmental movement spreading through the local, regional, and national communities and allied governance structure in North America. This heralded the adoption of ecosystem-based management (EBM) in the Great Lakes basin: management approaches that explicitly incorporate linkages among abiotic (e.g. water temperature), biotic (e.g. food webs), and social (e.g. economy) components of aquatic ecosystems. By fostering interjurisdictional partnerships, collaborations, and inclusive, holistic perspectives on how to effectively manage aquatic resources and their watersheds in the Great Lakes, EBM has helped enhance the value and health of Great Lakes fisheries and their habitats in addition to improving water quality in the basin. However, not all is well for Great Lakes fisheries today, as fisheries and aquatic resource professionals are concerned that new and evolving changes in Great Lakes ecosystems, particularly declines in Alewife recruitment (Kao et al., 2016) and redirection of phosphorus from pelagic food webs to nearshore and benthic areas by invasive Dreissenid Mussels, will negatively affect salmon populations by dramatically shifting or reducing pelagic prey availability (Hecky et al., 2004). Meanwhile, given changing trophic structure and dynamics of the Great Lakes, native Lake Trout and Walleye populations have exhibited either stable or increasing abundances in some lakes to the extent that fisheries and aquatic resource professionals believe they will become more important in supporting diverse, productive, socioeconomically valuable recreational fisheries. For instance, once-severely degraded Lake Trout and Walleye populations have recovered in Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan with the removal of obstacles to reproduction (e.g. dams; Hayes, 1999) and effective management of Sea Lamprey (Johnson et al., 2015; Stein et al., 2017). These success stories portend the importance and changing nature of a myriad of recreational fishing opportunities, albeit for different species, and underscore the need for an increased understanding of dynamic, well-balanced fisheries management approaches (e.g. EBM) that have proven to be effective in the Great Lakes and other water bodies (Moll et al., 2013). Additionally, these fish population recovery stories illustrate that changes are not only evident in fisheries but also can lead to changes in the local communities that depend upon fisheries resources and the economies that benefit from them. For example, some communities are now more ecologically and socially valuable due, at least, in part to the health and vitality of these fishes and the various habitats or aquatic ecosystems within the Great Lakes. Change is inevitable, and thus preparing and managing for change is critical for the future prosperity of Great Lakes coastal communities and the healthy and productivity of their fisheries.
Great Lakes communities and economy
The only real constant in the history of fishing in the Great Lakes basin is change (Beeton et al., 1999; Bogue, 2000; Hayes, 2013). Biological, environmental, chemical, and physical changes have altered the habitats upon which fish communities depend, causing major shifts in their distribution, life history strategies, and population statuses (Christie, 1974; Hayes, 1999). Similarly, cultural, economic, and social changes among humans that live and work in the Great Lakes basin have impacted their fishing behaviors and overall recreational preferences, resulting in more diverse and intense fishing activities and, thus, in general, greater economic value and impacts on the local, regional, and global communities (Bogue, 2000).
Environmental degradation coupled with urbanization and alterations in the land, air, and waterscapes related to human development have threatened the preservation of critical habitats and sustainability of fish species in the Great Lakes basin and, thus, their abilities to sustain viable commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing opportunities (Taylor et al., 1999). However, positive changes for the Great Lakes ecosystems and its fisheries have also occurred. For instance, ecosystem-based habitat restoration of rearing and foraging areas for juvenile fish and the development of rules and regulations that govern human uses of aquatic ecosystems (i.e. Clean Water Act, fish passage around barriers) have helped preserve critical habitats for recreationally-important native fishes (e.g. Lake Trout, Walleye, Yellow Perch) and non-native species (e.g. Pacific Salmon) (Manny et al., 2015; McLean et al., 2015; Moll et al., 2013). Due to the emergence of extensive and productive recreational fisheries in the Great Lakes basin and the continued importance of these fisheries to local and regional communities, there continues to be significant support for the management and conservation of fish and their habitats at the ecosystem level, especially in the form of EBM. This support has resulted in the development of vibrant coastal communities and economies, which have responded in innovative ways to meet the demand for fishing opportunities, whether they be recreational, commercial or subsistence (Beeton et al., 1999). Two binational treaty organizations in the Great Lakes (i.e. Great Lakes Fisheries Commission [GLFC], International Joint Commission [IJC]) collaborated to develop policies for EBM in the basin, including the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the 1981 Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries. These transboundary documents laid a foundation for binational governance in the Great Lakes basin, helping fisheries and aquatic resource professionals integrate fisheries and water management via an EBM approach (Guthrie, 2018, manuscript submitted for publication).
Effects of fishing on communities
Illustrative examples of how fish and their fisheries affect local and regional communities are depicted through the following case studies. These case studies present our personal accounts of growing up near different types of fisheries yet experiencing similar environmental changes yielding impacts to aquatic environments and the communities in which we lived. For contrast, we used an example from a small community on the shores of Lake Ontario and compared it to an island community in the Atlantic Ocean (i.e. Newfoundland), where, similar to the Great Lakes, fishing was a major source of livelihood, food security, and custom and tradition in the 1950s and 60s.
William (Bill) W. Taylor, University Distinguished Professor of Global Fisheries Systems at Michigan State University, remembers the many anthropogenic impacts on fish and their habitats while growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario in New York State. By the early to mid-1960s, significant changes in native fisheries had occurred due to pollution and predation by Sea Lamprey, which likely entered the lake through shipping canals. Populations of Lake Trout and Atlantic Salmon, the keystone predators in this lake, had declined significantly due to increased predation by Sea Lamprey combined with overfishing, habitat destruction, presence of other invasive species, and pollution from anthropogenic sources. These stressors led to a highly perturbed lake. Many people, including Bill, recall the stench of dying and rotting fish (Alewives) in warm, summer weather because it signaled the end of enjoyable recreation on the beach and fishing in the lake; in fact, the idea of fishing in the lake was humorous, for there were few chances to catch fish of any value during that time.
In hopes of creating more opportunities for people to enjoy the Great Lakes, Howard Tanner, former Chief of Fisheries and later Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and his team developed a successful introduction program for Coho Salmon and Chinook Salmon in the mid-1960s. His primary purpose was to establish recreational fishing as a key component of Great Lakes fisheries ecosystems and coastal communities. After the successful introduction, many people were attracted to the coastal communities of the Michigan Great Lakes to experience the splendor of the lakes including the beaches, boating, and the new fishing opportunities simply because there were exciting and tasty fish to catch – and, the fish were big. Howard recalls that, at the time, recreational anglers in the Great Lakes had unsophisticated gear and technology, small and modest boats, limited access to water bodies, few available marinas, and little fishing experience for these new species. However, inspired by “salmon fever,” anglers went out onto the Great Lakes in small boats, lined beaches and tributaries, and crowded docks to wet fishing lines in hopes of catching prized fishes (Tanner, 2016). Though today’s recreational anglers have advanced gear and technology, improved access to luxury fishing excursions, larger and more comfortable boats, and more experience, the “salmon fever” remains in the Great Lakes (Taylor et al., 2017). As the number of anglers grew in the Great Lakes basin, so did the capacity of local marinas, hotels, restaurants, bait and tackle shops, guide shops, and other service centers to accommodate the anglers and their recreational fishing activities. Growth in Great Lakes recreational fisheries brought with it direct, positive socioeconomic impacts such as increased tourism that revived local and regional communities and of the industries that support these fisheries (Tanner, 2016).
Similarly, Robert [Bob] Lambe, Executive Secretary of the GLFC, recalls experiencing significant environmental changes and their impacts on habitat, fish, and coastal communities growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Three main fisheries existed during his childhood: a thriving marine commercial fishery for North Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua); a highly-valued inland recreational fishery for Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis); and a marine-based subsistence fishery for lobster, shellfish, and squid. The extirpation of cod in the North Atlantic in the 1980s due to overfishing and habitat destruction contributed to the subsequent collapse of the overall fishery and obliteration of commercial fishers’ livelihoods. This led to a transition in the fishing industry; though some commercial fishers gave up fishing altogether, others remained in the area and created their own small-scale recreational fishing businesses. These latter fishers recognized the unique biological, geographic, and physical features of Newfoundland and Labrador and eventually found economic success by establishing diverse inshore recreational fishing opportunities for interested residents and non-residents. The profits generated from offering these recreational opportunities to interested individuals helped offset some of the lost income and employment opportunities from the demise of the North Atlantic cod commercial fishery. To this day, recreational fishing is still a primary activity for the people that live in Newfoundland and Labrador and those that visit.
These case studies illustrate the communities’ responses to environmental change and the resulting social, cultural, and economic impacts on the people that survive within these communities. As more changes occur in the future, and, perhaps, at a more rapid pace, stewards should continue to think innovatively and take advantage of businesses and infrastructure that support the diversity of Great Lakes aquatic ecosystems and enhances fishing opportunities while also sustaining people’s livelihoods, health, and well-being.
Effects of fishing on economies
The U.S. Great Lakes commercial fisheries, while locally and regionally of great importance, continue to decline, and today they contribute less than 1 percent of the billions of dollars a year to the regional economy that are attributed to recreational fisheries (Fig. 2; Hudson and Ziegler, 2014). Over time, recreational fishing has evolved to become a popular outdoor activity, enjoyed by men and women of all ages, and a major contributor to the economy and identity of Great Lakes communities. The experiences that come from recreational fishing and its supply chain are impressive on their own, but when the satisfaction and sense of place provided by fishing are considered, the socioeconomic and psychological benefits are large and widespread (Fig. 3; Taylor and Ferreri, 1999). For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified fishing as one of the most popular outdoor recreational activities in the U.S. (USFWS 2011; 2016). This is not surprising, for fishing is fun – it offers an opportunity for people to connect to nature, spend time with friends and family, experience the thrill of “the catch,” bring home fresh food, and learn more about ecosystems and the species that live within them.
We believe that the integration of recreational fishing experiences, with the more locally-based commercial and subsistence fishing, provides the foundation for a productive environment and economy. The contributions of recreational fishing activities in the Great Lakes are measured and reported in a variety of ways, mostly in terms of economic impacts from fisher expenditures on trips, equipment (e.g. rods, reels, boats, vehicles, second homes or camps), and license sales (NOAA, 2015). For example, in 2011, 1.7 million Great Lakes anglers averaged $655 on trip-related expenses and $55 per day harvesting some of the most popular recreational fish species including Walleye, Sauger (Sander canadensis), Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides), Yellow Perch, and salmon (USFWS). Though the total number of anglers fishing in the U.S. remains relatively low in relationship to the total population, the number of anglers fishing has increased over the last five years. In that time, the number of Great Lakes anglers, both males and females aged 16 and older, was reported to have increased by 10% USFWS, 2016). More anglers fishing the Great Lakes could lead to a greater stakeholder awareness of, and concern for, maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems that not only support fish as food resources but enable future recreational fishing and tourism opportunities.
The contributions of recreational fishing activities in the U.S. are also measured and reported in the number of charter boats, marinas, and charter boat trips in the recreational fishing season(s) (NOAA, 2015). For instance, in Michigan alone, charter boat fishing contributes nearly $15 million in gross sales to coastal freshwater communities (Allan et al., 2017). Charter boat fishing serves as an excellent way for anglers, especially novice anglers, to experience fishing with convenience and safety in a comfortable environment. Guided by a captain and a first mate, anglers have easy access to rods, reels, and lures to fish for target species in various water bodies. The entire charter boat operation ranges in expense depending on location and the fish species targeted, but it can be expensive. For instance, a five-hour charter boat trip on Lake Michigan for salmon, steelhead, Lake Trout, and Brown Trout for six people today would amount to several hundred USD. This, in addition to food, housing, and transportation costs associated with fishing, is a substantial price to pay, even for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A salmon-based charter boat enterprise in the Great Lakes exists today, after first garnering interest among Great Lakes anglers following the stocking of Pacific salmon (e.g. Coho and Chinook Salmon) (Kuehn et al., 2011; Lichtkoppler, 2015). During that time, and still today, anglers travel many miles (i.e. 80% of customers travel more than 50 miles) to marinas and associated local communities throughout the Great Lakes basin to experience charter boat fishing and other recreational water-based opportunities like shopping for equipment, lodging, and fine dining (Allan et al., 2017). The participation in the charter boat enterprise in the U.S. waters of the Great Lakes has remained relatively stable in the last few decades, and it has proven to be a significant contributor to the coastal communities’ economy, psyche, and well-being in the Great Lakes (Kuehn et al., 2011).
Fishing license sales account for some of the most significant economic contributions of recreational fishing in the Great Lakes. In Michigan, for example, residents aged 17 and older are required to purchase a $26 annual fishing license before they venture into the outdoors to fish. Fishing licenses not only guarantee a fisher’s right or privilege to fish, but they, along with the excise taxes associated with fishing equipment purchased in the U.S. and other related equipment costs, contribute to conservation funds provided to the States to better manage their fisheries resources. These funds are federally allocated through the Dingell-Johnson Act, the Wallop-Breaux Amendment to the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration program, and other tax policies to be specifically used to improve fish and their habitats at the state level (USFWS, 2017). Without these designated funds, the Great Lakes states would not be able to implement the on-the-ground conservation that is necessary to sustain fish and their habitats for current and future fishing opportunities that support vibrant coastal communities. In the U.S. in 2011, anglers spent $551,824 on licenses alone and $76,819 on stamps, tags, and fishing licenses. However, in the last five years, anglers in the U.S. and Great Lakes have spent less, overall, on licenses, stamps, and permits, and equipment (USFWS; 2016). Further declines in spending for fishing could become a reality, especially given changes in the states’ demographics, cultural values, and land use practices. In Wisconsin, for example, fishery managers project that changes in cultural values will negatively impact demand for fishing in the future as youth and young adults spend more time indoors, people find alternate hobbies, and access to water becomes more difficult due to urbanization (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2016). Our hope is that the future is one of more people fishing in the Great Lakes basin, and that commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing – including associated industries (e.g. restaurant, charter boat, regional or global travel and tourism, fishing tackle) – will experience more economic growth and social value. Given our personal experiences, we know that an area that has accessible, productive fisheries protected by well-balanced fisheries management approaches provides people with a sense of place they are willing to invest in and protect (Fig. 3). We also hope that the future is characterized by EBM, continued habitat restoration and conservation efforts, productive and well-governed fisheries resources, and thus more opportunities to fish for pleasure, for food, and for our livelihoods (Guthrie, 2018, manuscript submitted for publication).
Fisheries and fishing have evolved in the Great Lakes due to ecological and socioeconomic influences over time. Today, Great Lakes fisheries are dominated by a mix of native and non-native species, governed by multiple jurisdictions and agencies that must work closely together, and strongly cherished by residents and non-residents as valuable aquatic resources (Gaden et al., 2013). The coming years will see more changes with increasing human populations, urbanization, and evolving environmental dynamics and, with them, more impacts on fish, their habitats, and the health and economies of local communities as we know them today. With a view to the future, we share our perspectives and offer a series of solution-focused recommendations for management and governance of Great Lakes fisheries. Overall, we envision a renaissance in Great Lakes fisheries research and management, one that maximizes the monetary and non-monetary benefits associated with fisheries as social-ecological systems that are uniquely important for local and regional communities.
In order to achieve this vision, two critical areas must be addressed to lay a foundation for the Great Lakes fisheries renaissance we foresee: 1) improve valuation of fisheries, monetarily and otherwise; and, 2) research and manage fisheries as coupled human and natural systems (CHANS; Liu et al., 2007). First, we recommend that fisheries and aquatic professionals work together to develop an improved valuation of Great Lakes fisheries and the industries they support. General approximations of the economic value of the fishery exist and are measured via assessments of the number and type of species harvested, the number of anglers and boats operating in Great Lakes waters, gear and equipment sales, travel costs, and the number of restaurants and specialty retail stores that cater to anglers’ interests. However, many costs are not accounted for in this overall valuation of Great Lakes fishing. For instance, with this valuation, we do not often account for values associated with the important non-monetary benefits and ecosystem services people experience from fishing such as those that come with a sense of place (Mueller, 2011). These feelings do not come with a price tag, though they do relate to memories and unique experiences that people cherish and remember as enriching moments in their lives. Thus, people may be willing to invest more in them for their own benefits and those of future generations. Other non-monetary benefits and services may be more social or cultural in nature, such as the bonding that occurs during time spent with family and friends in association with well-functioning bodies of water. Thus, to properly assess the value of Great Lakes fisheries, it is imperative that researchers, managers, and other professionals develop a valuation system or process that assigns value to fishing as a whole, including its monetary and non-monetary benefits.
As we conceptualize conservation of our aquatic and fisheries resources throughout the Great Lakes basin, we must continue to focus our efforts on protecting ecosystems (via EBM) and the entire social-ecological system through a holistic, rather than single-focused, lens. For instance, fisheries are increasingly studied using the CHANS paradigm (Liu et al., 2007; Österblom and Folke, 2015; Gephart et al., 2016; Tapia-Lewin et al., 2017), but the magnitude, extent, drivers, and effects of linkages among fisheries are often incompletely understood. The situation is similar in the Great Lakes, where CHANS research is expanding (Baustian et al., 2014; Mavrommati et al., 2014), yet causes and consequences of social-ecological connections influencing the Great Lakes are often poorly defined. Hence, there is need for a conceptual paradigm for quantifying and understanding interactions among Great Lakes ecosystems, fisheries, and human systems at multiple scales. The telecoupling framework developed by Liu et al. (2013) enables integrative evaluation of the economic, political, social, cultural, and ecological interactions among CHANS over distances. However, the telecoupling framework has scarcely been applied to fisheries and aquatic systems (Carlson et al., 2017; Carlson et al., 2018). We thus recommend application of the telecoupling framework to the Great Lakes basin, which we believe represents an excellent example of the power of this analytical paradigm because of its diverse fisheries, socioeconomic and cultural importance, multijurisdictional management and governance structures, and connections with ecosystems and local, regional, and global economies (e.g. water quantity and quality, invasive species introductions).
With an improved valuation of Great Lakes fisheries and a conceptual shift to researching and managing them as CHANS, it will be easier to track how people’s attitudes, beliefs, interests, and actions change in the coming years, and the resulting impacts of those changes on the environment and fishery. The telecoupling framework is well-suited for achieving these tasks because it explicitly integrates ecological and social information across space and time, enabling fisheries professionals to understand – and ultimately manage – changes in fisheries ecosystems and human systems. We strongly recommend that fisheries and aquatic resource professionals and stakeholders embrace changes in people’s attitudes, the environment, and the fishery in developing future fisheries management plans. Change is no longer evident at just the local scales, but also at regional and global scales as more people become more interconnected. Change often allows us opportunities to make key improvements (e.g. innovate new outreach initiatives to recruit anglers, restore critical habitats, implement fishery management strategies, advocate for clean water and healthy environments) in a system that will continue to evolve over time (Good and Taylor, 2016; Good et al., 2016; AFWA, 2018). As history has made evident, environmental, socioeconomic, and cultural changes in the Great Lakes affect our resources and our abilities to benefit from conserving and protecting them. In the future, as changes in climate, land use, development, human population growth, and attitudes occur in the Great Lakes basin, we should identify our allies, form and maintain partnerships, and work collaboratively to address change while still maximizing the value of the resource to society at both the local, regional, and global levels (Fig. 3; Good et al., 2016).
In the midst of potential social-ecological changes in the Great Lakes, we must consider how to maintain financial support for the management and conservation of aquatic ecosystems and fisheries. The need for innovative fisheries funding mechanisms is not new, but it is nonetheless vital for the Great Lakes fisheries renaissance we envision. Currently, fishing license sales and portions of federal funds are collected and distributed among state management agencies to fund actions aimed at conserving fish habitats and fisheries resources. However, if angler numbers decrease in and around the Great Lakes, fewer people will be contributing monetarily to conservation given our current funding model, thereby limiting our ability to preserve, enhance, and sustain fisheries resources. Thus, we recommend that fisheries and aquatic resource professionals consider new and innovative ways to fund fisheries conservation. One solution to this problem would be to determine strategies to recruit new, and more diverse, anglers (AFWA, 2018). For example, women currently comprise the fastest growing sector of fly fishers in the U.S., and their added financial contributions to the conservation funding model will likely grow over time (Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, 2015). We recommend state and provincial agencies, non-governmental organizations, and local groups (e.g. local fishing chapters) encourage new angler participation in fishing, especially among underrepresented groups, through workshops, education seminars, casting and fly tying classes, gear fittings, and other activities that provide newcomers a safe space to interact and learn from each other. Likewise, improving valuation of Great Lakes fisheries and researching and managing them as CHANS will deepen our understanding of the many people and organizations that benefit from fisheries (including but transcending anglers) and illuminate potential funding mechanisms involving these diverse stakeholders (e.g. partnerships with the business community, use of existing federal royalties on energy and mineral development; AFWA, 2016). In addition, recognizing that healthy Great Lakes fisheries and aquatic ecosystems benefit everyone (not just anglers), we believe that improved fisheries valuation and CHANS research will yield new avenues for communicating the importance of fisheries (e.g. for clean water, as food, as indicators of healthy ecosystems) and thereby identifying novel funding sources. Lastly, we emphasize that a productive fishery is a result of an ecologically well-balanced and -managed aquatic ecosystem, which, in turn, means working with all stakeholders including those in the watershed that influence the lakes’ water quality and quantity. The Great Lakes belong to everyone and thus need to be accessible to all, and thereby valued by all.
In addition to our perspectives and recommendations listed here, fisheries researchers, educators, communicators, managers, decision- and policy-makers, and advocates will have other opportunities to positively impact fisheries and their habitats in the Great Lakes and beyond. They can do so first by providing the needed knowledge and support to design sustainable EBM programs that maintain the preeminence of fish and fishing in the fabric of life and economic well-being of coastal communities. By relying on our scientific knowledge; collaborating with our state, federal, and tribal governance agencies, NGOs and university partners; and working effectively alongside interjurisdictional governing bodies such as the GLFC and IJC, we hope for a bright future for Great Lakes ecosystems and the fisheries they support – one that not only drives people to become better connected to nature but secures the social and economic capital needed to conserve and enhance aquatic resources for future generations.
We thank the organizers, chairs, and sponsors of the 2018 International Association of Great Lakes Research Annual Conference on Great Lakes Research at which this paper was formally presented. We are appreciative of the efforts of Julia Whyte, a Master’s student at Michigan State University, who conducted and shared with us a preliminary literature review of relevant Great Lakes fisheries publications and existing data sets. We also thank our collective of friends who have helped better connect us to the Great Lakes by boat, rod, net, and story. Henry Regier, in particular, has strongly influenced all authors in their way of thinking about how aquatic systems and management work using a lens of holistic, integrative processes that reflect local, regional, national, and global environmental and social conditions. Through our personal and professional experiences, we have observed many changes in Great Lakes aquatic ecosystems, and we are grateful for people like Henry who continue to share their knowledge and offer novel and innovative ideas in an effort to maintain the health and well-being of Great Lakes fisheries.
The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.