Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes in volume (119 cubic miles) and is exposed to the greatest effects from urbanization and agriculture. Measuring 241 miles across and 57 miles from north to south, the lake's surface is just under 10,000 square miles, with 871 miles of shoreline. The average depth of Lake Erie is only about 62 feet (210 feet, maximum). The drainage basin covers parts of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario. Physical Characteristics Credit: Great Lakes Information Network
Lake Erie Yesterday Originally, natural undeveloped lands Industrialization, urbanization, agriculture Habitat loss Nutrient loadings Eutrophication Lake Erie was “dying” Lake Erie LaMP
Lake Erie Today + Healthier than 30 years ago + Sewage treatment upgrades + Controlling phosphates - Contaminated sediments - Exotic species Although Lake Erie is better in regards to phosphorus, all of these issues are still with us. Lake Erie LaMP
You’re glumping the pond where the Humming-Fish hummed! No more can they hum, for their gills are all gummed. So I’m sending them off. Oh, their future is dreary. They’ll walk on their fins and get woefully weary. In search of some water that isn’t so smeary. I hear things are just as bad up in Lake Erie. In the 1991 reprint of the book, the last line has been deleted. PA Sea Grant
Credit: Loretta Cicerrella Diverse Habitats beaches rocky coasts sand dunes islands wetlands open waters Lake Erie LaMP
Habitat Loss and Degradation Loss of wetlands habitat is a key issue. Wetlands are ecologically, economically and socially important to ecosystem health. Open waters, islands, tributaries, shoreline as well as swamp forest habitats have been identified as impaired. Major stressors include changing land use and altered hydrology.
Human Communities One-third of Great Lakes population lives in the Lake Erie basin. Lake Erie is one of the most heavily populated freshwater lakes in the world. Lake Erie supplies drinking water for about 11 million people Lake Erie LaMP
Biotic Communities Great biological diversity Over 130 fish species in the basin Abundant bird, mammal, amphibian, reptilian, invertebrate and plant species Lake Erie LaMP
Species at Risk Lake Sturgeon Eastern Sand Darter Freshwater Mussels Lake Erie Water Snake Fowler’s Toad Piping Plover American Chestnut Lake Erie LaMP
Lake Erie Water Snake The Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum) is found only on the islands in the western end of Lake Erie. It is a, brownish, pale gray or lightly patterned water snake that is a subspecies of the darker and more widespread Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon). The pale coloration of the Lake Erie Water Snake is an adaptation to local habitat features of its island habitat, notably the pale gray limestone common in shoreline areas.
Phosphorus Management In the past, too much phosphorus created ecosystem problems including “dead zones” Target levels for reductions have been met since the late 1980s The subsequent invasion of zebra mussels and other ecosystem changes have reduced phosphorus levels impacting biological productivity This issue continues to be controversial.
Chemical Contaminants PCBs and mercury have priority status Organochlorine Compounds Trace Metals PAHs Herbicides Insecticides & Biocides DDT Copper Mercury PCBs Dioxin Atrazine Anthracene Mirex Pentachlorobenzene Toxaphene Alachlor Lake Erie LaMP
Primary Stressors Chemical contaminants Habitat loss and degradation Exotics species Remediation of any one of these causes without addressing the others will not fully restore Lake Erie Lake Erie LaMP
Benthification Lake Erie has changed from an open water system to a benthic system due to zebra and quagga mussel activity.
Lake Erie has always supported a strong commercial fishery. Commercial fishing began around 1820 and expanded about 20% per year until the 1880s when some species in Lake Erie began to decline.
The Good Old Days…. 1832: Buffalo, NY - Near mouth of harbor on May 12, lake trout catch of 17,547 lbs. 1859: Pomfret, NY becomes Dunkirk, NY – William Johnson takes 75 lb. lake trout 1866: Sandusky, OH - 40-50 tons of fish/day average; Largest whitefish ever caught in Lake Erie (15 lbs.) on April 30 Dunkirk, NY - 2,000 lbs catch, most of which were lake trout averaging 10 lbs. One fish caught outside harbor weighs 70 lbs. and is 4 1/2 feet long 1875: 150,000 whitefish fry stocked by US Fish and Fisheries Commission Detroit River to Cuyahoga River – 500 pound nets harvest 18 million pounds of fish, excluding herring; included 12 million pounds of whitefish 1891: Objects seen at 30 feet deep; herring runs good Point Burwell, ON: 3 lake trout taken at 40 pounds each Information: NYSDEC Photo: H. Domske
The Good Old Days…. 1892: Middle Bass Island – lake herring catches of 4,500 lbs per pound net Huron, OH - herring catches of 2,377 pounds per net Vermillion, OH – almost unbroken lines of gill net extend into Canadian waters, shutting the schools of herring off from the spawning areas off the islands and the head of the lake 1893: Detroit, MI – “Whitefish all out of Lake Erie, and we are after the herring now.” Port Clinton, OH – herring catch from one firm of 35 tons Lorain, OH - Gill net herring catch of 54 tons in 7 days Cleveland, OH – 12 tons of herring in one day 1898: Point Maitland, ON – 37 1/2 pound lake trout; large quantities of lake trout, some over 30 lbs. 1899: Point Maitland, ON – 6,000 lbs. whitefish, one of which weighed 19 lbs. Information: NYSDEC
Decline of the Fishery Overfishing, pollution, shoreline and stream habitat destruction, and accidental and deliberate introduction of non-native invasive species, such as the sea lamprey, all played a part in the decline of the fishery.
Fishery Management In 1954, the U.S. and Canada signed the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries. In 1955, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established to be the forum for state, federal, tribal and provincial fishery agencies to coordinate their research and management. The Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries was signed in 1981 by state, federal and provincial fish management agencies to formalize their commitment to lake committees as their ‘major action arm’. Source: GL Fishery Commission
Lake Erie’s Fish & Fishing Today, only pockets of the once large commercial fishery remain. For Canada, the Lake Erie fishery (11 species) remains prosperous, and represents nearly two-thirds of the country's total Great Lakes harvest. On the U.S. side of Lake Erie, the commercial fishery is based primarily on walleye and perch. Source: GL Fishery Commission Yellow Perch
Canadian Gill Net Boat – Port Stanley, Ontario Photo: H. Domske
Lake Erie Dead Zone – Anoxic Areas Source: Dr. Bill Edwards, Niagara University
How does a hypolimnion go hypoxic? Increased Nutrients N, K, P, Si Phytoplankton Bloom Increased Death & Decay Heterotrophic Bacteria Decompose Oxygen is Depleted www.abe.msstate.edu/csd/stride_00/eutrop_1.gif Dr. Bill Edwards, Niagara University
The Oxygen Budget Air Surface Interface 0 2 in Phytoplankton Production of O 2 Water Column Respiration 0 2 out Epilimnion Thermocline Hypolimnion Water Column Respiration 0 2 out Sediment 0 2 out Sediment Oxygen Demand 0 2 out 0 2 in Dr. Bill Edwards, Niagara University
Photo from OSU Dept. of Agriculture MIXING PHOSPHORUSNITROGEN ALGAL BLOOMS SINK AND DIE DECOMPOSITION BY BACTERIA “Dead Zone” FORMATION NUTRIENT ENRICHED WATER CENTRAL BASIN MORE ALGAL BLOOMS WESTERN BASIN TRANSPORT * Conroy, J.D., D.D. Kane, D.M. Dolan, W.J. Edwards, M.N. Charlton, and D.A. Culver. Recent Increases in Lake Erie Plankton Biomass: Roles of External Phosphorus Loading and Dreissenid Mussels. In review, Journal of Great Lakes Research. Credit: Dr. Bill Edwards, Niagara University