Because of its social, environmental and economic importance, shouldn’t you know more about Lake Erie and how you can protect it? By joining us here each Tuesday, you can learn about avoidable problems and what others are doing to protect our freshwater resources, including Lake Erie. The Lake Erie watershed is home to about 13 million people, supports one of the largest freshwater fisheries in the world and provides many recreational and tourism opportunities. There are more fish harvested annually from Lake Erie than all of the other Great Lakes combined. Lake Erie commercial fishermen harvested close to 30.2 million pounds of fish in 2008, with yellow perch and walleye the most lucrative species. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey also shows that recreational fishing throughout the Great Lakes is most popular on Lake Erie. Charter fishing has been a major economic contributor, according to the 2009 Michigan Charter Fishing Report put out by Michigan Sea Grant/the MSU Center for Economic Analysis. From 1990 to 2009, more than 37,000 charter trips were reported to have left from Lake Erie ports, contributing an economic impact of more than $47.5 million to coastal communities. In addition, Lake Erie is known for its birding, boating, water trails and access to history. According to Ohio Sea Grant, Lake Erie and its associated habitats are among the most bird-rich ecosystems in the United States and a huge draw for birders throughout the country. Boat owners spend an average of $3,600 per year on their boats, according to the Great Lakes Commission Recreational Boating report. And of course summer draws millions to Lake Erie beaches to cool off.
However, because it has the highest human population density, the most farmland and the largest number of major cities, ecological problems usually show up first in Lake Erie. The activities of all the people who visit or live in the region can create huge problems that can sink an economy based on the very benefits too often taken for granted. Lake Erie is once again showing signs of neglect. Sedimentation, coastal development and urban and agricultural runoff affect Lake Erie more so than any of the other Great Lakes. Toxic harmful algae blooms have returned to cover its surface. The “dead zone” where fish can’t survive is growing in the central basin. Invasive species are crowding out its native plants, fish and mussels. New threats from degradation and depletion of groundwater and streams and rivers that feed the lake are also growing. In coming weeks you can become an expert on Lake Erie by reading about the plants and animals and people that rely on its freshwater. You will also read tales about its rivers and tributaries.
Next week: The Lake Erie food web.