State of the Lake

Lake Michigan 2016-2021
This state of Lake Michigan report provides an evaluation of progress, along with supporting information, toward the achievement of the fish-community objectives (FCOs) for Lake Michigan (Eshenroder et al. 1995) during 2016-2021. A state-of-lake (SOL) conference and reporting process was initiated by the 1998 revision of A Joint Strategic Plan for the Management of Great Lakes Fisheries (Great Lakes Fishery Commission 2007). The process was modified from a SOL conference and published technical report to a SOL conference and online dashboard report beginning in 2019. Increasing constituent access and providing a succinct and easily understood science-based evaluation of SOL results were central to the development of the SOL dashboard. Eshenroder et al. (1995) describes seven FCOs, some with multiple components, that help define a unified direction and purpose for fisheries management activities in Lake Michigan. The FCOs are organized by various themes presented below. Each theme is followed by a high-level status summary and overall rating (dial) of FCO achievement.

1.0 Salmonine (Salmon and Trout)

A diverse salmon and trout predator community comprised of Chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow trout, brown trout and lake trout is maintained at a level of abundance supporting vibrant recreational and charter sport fisheries, and tribal commercial and subsistence fisheries. Progress was observed toward establishing self-sustaining lake trout populations after multiple decades of rehabilitation stocking.

2.0 Planktivore (Prey Fish)

The offshore prey fish community rebounded from record lows in 2015-16 to more moderate levels during the current reporting period and supported a healthy predator fish community and fishery. The prey fish community remains moderately diverse, though dominated by naturalized populations of alewife and round goby. Biomass of native bloater increased relative to biomass estimates made during the previous decade.

3.0 Inshore Fish

Self-sustaining populations of nearshore fishes comprised of yellow perch, walleye, smallmouth bass, pike and panfish provide quality fishing opportunities for Lake Michigan recreational anglers, especially in Green Bay, and opportunities for tribal commercial and subsistence fishing for walleye and yellow perch. Most species are meeting harvest expectations. One exception is yellow perch, which had dramatic population declines throughout the main lake basin in the mid-1990s and remain at low levels compared to highs in the 1980s. At this time, yellow perch support limited commercial fishing only in Green Bay.

4.0 Benthivore (Bottom Feeding Fish)

Benthic fishes, including lake whitefish, round whitefish, lake sturgeon, suckers, and burbot are maintaining populations in Lake Michigan. However, many lake sturgeon populations require long-term rehabilitation efforts (streamside rearing and stocking) and lake whitefish populations in the main basin are performing at levels well below management goals.

5.0 Sea Lamprey Control

Invasive sea lamprey population abundance must be controlled to prevent negative impacts on desirable fish stocks. Control efforts during the current reporting period have been highly successful in reducing the abundance of adult lamprey and the rate of lamprey marking on large lake trout.

6.0 Other Fish Species

A fish community of moderate richness, diversity and comprised of native and non-native fish species is maintained in the nearshore waters of southern Lake Michigan and Green Bay, areas targeted for monitoring. The fish community remained stable during the reporting period and likely contributed to the overall biological integrity and health of the Lake Michigan ecosystem.

7.0 Habitat

Development of Environmental Principles and Priorities has identified important functional habitats at specific geographic locations for protection and restoration actions to improve production of desired fish species. Despite substantial reductions in fish contaminant levels in fillets of many sizes and species of fish, consumption advisories are still necessary across all Lake Michigan jurisdictions.