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Content Guidelines

The content of each material in this guide was examined using these guidelines. These content guidelines reflect a shared conception of important issues and concepts in the context of Great Lakes fisheries education. There are 11 issues and 143 concepts.

Issue 1: Maintain and recover fisheries habitat

1.1 Habitat forms a key element of sustainable fisheries.

1.2 Aquatic habitats that support, or could support, sport, subsistence and/or commercial fisheries include: streams, rivers, lakes, coastal waters and open Great Lakes waters.

1.3 Particular aquatic or semi-aquatic ecosystems provide critical habitat for some species, and include: inland wetlands, floodplain/riparian zones, tributary streams, and coastal wetlands. Loss of these habitats significantly reduces the potential of fisheries dependent on them.

1.4 Great Lakes coastal wetlands are unique in providing hydrological and habitat benefits that are critically important to sustaining ecosystems and human communities.

1.5 Aquatic habitat is dependent on natural flux of water levels and flows.


1.6 Many critical (e.g. spawning) habitats have been, and are, under significant pressure from historic and current development. A significant number have been damaged or lost.

1.7 Wetlands in particular often feel the brunt of increased land- or water-use pressures; more than two-thirds of the natural Great Lakes wetlands have already been filled in or drained; invasive species also contribute to wetland loss.

1.8 Fragmentation of wetlands can significantly degrade the productive capacity of the Great Lakes; the remaining wetlands must remain above a critical minimum size to function properly.

1.9 Hydropower facilities and dams are situated on many important rivers in the Great Lakes watershed, and have profound influence on their fisheries.

1.10 The withdrawal and discharge of water can directly affect fish through entrainment or impingement on screens and fish distribution, respectively.

1.11 Water diversions, withdrawals, and excessive discharge (volumes), could affect fish habitat, and need to be carefully controlled.

1.12 Disrupting the natural flow in a stream by pumping or removing groundwater, creating impervious surfaces and accelerating runoff, or physically modifying a stream cannel or a stream bank can seriously disrupt aquatic habitat.

1.13 Habitat protection, mitigation and enhancement are primary fisheries management activities.

1.14 Sustainability will require an integrated ecosystem approach to fishery-habitat management, including research, education, regulation, restoration and best land use practices. This approach must be applied to the Great Lakes themselves as well as tributary systems.

1.15 Critical habitats can be, and in some cases are being, protected and maintained; damaged habitats can be, and in some cases are being, rehabilitated.

1.16 Wetland restoration should be done in a way that contributes to fisheries values.

1.17 Some former fisheries can be, and in some cases are being, re-established through the reintroduction of native species into rehabilitated habitat (e.g. lake trout, lake sturgeon).

Issue 2: Identify and reduce sources of pollution affecting fisheries habitat.
2.1 One specific cause of fisheries habitat degradation is pollutants which can affect both water and substrate quality.

2.2 Scientists have identified 362 contaminants in the Great Lakes ecosystem: 32 metals, 68 pesticides and 262 other organic chemicals; 11 contaminants are considered critical or priority pollutants by the Great Lakes Water Quality Board; they have been found to accumulate in fish, harm fish and wildlife and pose a risk to human health.

2.3 Pollutants fall into a number of categories. [Each of these creates particular impacts on fisheries habitat, and if pollution is bad enough, may cause habitat loss.]

  • acid rain and other airborne contaminants
  • agricultural/landscape (e.g. lawns, golf courses, roads) runoff
  • biological (e.g. exotics, disease)
  • industrial (toxic) waste/spills
  • post-consumer petroleum products
  • sewage and other organic inputs
  • silt or sediment, including resuspension
  • thermal
  • radioactive
  • solid waste (especially litter/plastics)
2.4 Point-source pollutants enter the environment from a specific point (e.g. sewage outfall) which can usually be identified.

2.5 Nonpoint-source pollutants usually enter the environment from numerous sources (e.g. lawn fertilizer runoff, pesticides, acid rain) and can be harder to identify and treat than point source pollutants.

2.6 The movement of ground water is a major pathway for pollution to reach the Great Lakes.

2.7 Contaminated sediment is a large-scale, high-cost problem within the Great Lakes Basin.

2.8 Pollutants may affect the Great Lakes directly, or enter by way of tributary systems.

2.9 Contaminants and their bioaccumulative risks to both species and human health threaten sustainable fisheries, and must be minimized.


2.10 Sources of pollution must be stopped or reduced if safe, quality fisheries are to exist.

2.11 Although industries and sectors(e.g. government) have a responsibility to control potential pollutants, each individual also has a responsibility to act in ways that can directly or indirectly reduce the impact of pollutants on the environment.

2.12 There has been a long-term trend toward reduced public exposure to mercury, DDT, PCB's, dieldrin, chlordane and dioxin from consumption of sport fish caught in Michigan lakes and streams. However, the reduction of certain contaminants has slowed or stopped over the past 10 years.

2.13 Mercury poses a widespread problem throughout the Great Lakes basin. The Michigan Department of Community Health has issued a special advisory for all inland lakes in Michigan due to mercury. Air emissions of mercury are the largest source of mercury in the water.

2.14 The populations most at risk from exposure to mercury and other toxins through the consumption of contaminated fish are nursing mothers, pregnant women, women who intend to have children and children under age 15, and people who often consume fish, which may include Native American subsistence anglers, low-income or minority anglers, and sport anglers.

2.15 Exposure to individual contaminants varies by region, type of fish and size of fish.

2.16 Although some fish are below the government guidelines set for safe consumption of commercially caught fish, they may still not be safe for consumption, particular by at-risk populations (see 2.14).

2.17 Fish consumption advisories should be consulted and followed whenever possible before eating fish caught in Michigan waters.

2.18 Despite improvements in reducing public exposures to toxic chemicals from consumption of sport fish caught fish in Michigan lakes and streams, the presence of fish consumption advisories limits the full enjoyment of the Great Lakes fishery.

2.19 Despite the existence and publication of fish consumption advisories, people that consume fish are not always aware of them, specifically those most at risk (see 2.14).

2.20 The U.S. and Canada have had a number of treaties and agreements to protect the Great Lakes from pollution, including the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972, which set up the International Joint Commission.

2.21 The International Joint Commission is responsible for reducing pollution in the Great Lakes. It has identified 42 Areas of Concern (AOC's) in the Basin where environmental quality standards have not been achieved. Each has a local Remedial Action Plan (RAP) designed to meet those standards. Citizens are directly involved in planning the cleanup of these targeted areas.

Issue 3: Prevent or control the introduction of non-native nuisance species (exotics).

3.1 Over 152 species have been established in the Great Lakes since Europeans have arrived; around one-third have arrived since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

3.2 A number of introduced species are now naturalized­ - maintaining self-sustaining populations - and should be considered regular components of the fish community; some are considered desirable (e.g. rainbow trout; chinook salmon) while others need to be suppressed (e.g. round goby, sea lamprey).


3.3 Introductions can severely impact the sustainability of native fisheries and ecosystems through direct competition, predation, habitat alteration, trophic alteration, spatial alteration, gene pool deterioration and disease introduction.

3.4 Exotic species in the Great Lakes have caused billions of dollars in economic loss; without efforts to restrict distribution, costs to society will increase.

3.5 Sea lamprey in particular have devastated the Lakes, contributing to the collapse of the lake trout in most Great Lakes.

3.6 Historic purposeful or accidental introduction of species such as alewife, smelt, and salmon, has had a negative impact on the Great Lakes fishery and ecosystem.

3.7 Other species of current concern include, but are not limited to, zebra mussel, ruffe, round goby, spiny water flea, purple loosestrife and Eurasian water milfoil.

3.8 In just over 10 years, zebra mussels have seriously and perhaps permanently altered the Great Lakes ecosystem; their potential economic impact on the basin is $5 billion over the next 10 years.


3.9 Additional state, federal and international commitment and funding is required to adequately address the prevention or control of exotic invaders.

3.10 Perfect screening, detection and control of exotics are currently impossible.

3.11 Prevention of exotics is more cost-effective than control; an established organism is virtually impossible to eradicate.

3.12 The rate of exotic invasion is directly related to human activities; activities that lead to unintentional introductions should be identified and controlled.

3.13 Chemical-free solutions are currently being developed to address the problem of nuisance species. These solutions are more environmentally benign and may be more effective than chemical methods, or chemical methods alone.

3.14 The introduction of barrier, lampricide, and sterile male control programs have greatly reduced sea lamprey in all but the areas affected by the St. Mary's River.

3.15 Recent, co-ordinated, international control efforts focused on the St. Mary's River have had a significant impact on larval sea lamprey populations in this area. It is too soon to determine the impacts on adult lamprey or fish populations.

3.16 Recent, unintended introductions have largely come by way of ballast water release; both federal governments need to move toward the establishment of enforceable discharge standards.

3.17 Currently, there are attempts to control ballast water in ships coming into the Great Lakes from outside North America.

Issue 4: Address Great Lakes issues at the ecosystem and watershed level.

4.1 Fish communities and fisheries are parts and products of complex aquatic ecosystems.

4.2 There are limits on the productivity of these systems.

4.3 Self-sustainability is important to the proper functioning of biological systems.

4.4 There are integral links among ecological health, sustainable development and economic health in the Great Lakes basin and its watersheds.

4.5 Today, the Great Lakes have aquatic communities that are structurally and functionally volatile, and that exhibit reduced numbers of native species and a greatly expanded base of non-native species.


4.6 Many Great Lakes ecosystems have been altered significantly through human impacts, some irrevocably; fisheries must be managed and ecological rehabilitation attempted within this context.

4.7 Trends toward lower levels of nutrient loading and overall Great Lakes productivity will have profound impacts on the ecosystem and its constituencies; whether current sport and commercial fisheries can be maintained in light of this change is questionable.

4.8 One challenge to the sustainability of large systems is jurisdictional stress; it is important to consider the potential effects on the whole system rather than only within particular jurisdictions.


4.9 Future sustainability of the Great Lakes and tributary resources depends on our ability to manage these ecosystems through holistic, ecological approaches that integrate knowledge across trophic levels.

4.10 The ecosystem approach to management is well suited to address complex problems that extend over time, space and jurisdictions.

4.11 Ecological rehabilitation involves the reestablishment of ecosystem integrity by repairing the basic structure and energy dynamics of the system.

4.12 In some cases, for example through the introduction of Pacific salmon, progress toward ecological rehabilitation can be, and has been, accomplished by substituting exotic surrogates for extinct or impaired native species.

4.13 Ecosystem status can (and should) be monitored through indices of health indicator species, community structure, nutrient levels and flow rates.

Issue 5: Manage fishery diversity within the Great Lakes basin.

5.1 The ecological values related to diversity apply to sport, subsistence and commercial Great Lakes fisheries.

5.2 Some areas of the Great Lakes had naturally limited diversity (e.g. Lake Superior); in other areas, diversity was reduced through extinctions (e.g. blue pike) and extirpations (e.g. lake trout in Lake Michigan).

5.3 The Great Lakes were vulnerable to introduced species because of relatively low levels of indigenous fish populations.

5.4 Decreased diversity can occur through habitat loss, overharvest, intentional or accidental species introductions, disease and the effects of some stocking practices on genetic or stock variability.

5.5 Fish health issues are key factors affecting abundance and/or sustainability of important Great Lakes fish populations.

5.6 Sport and commercial fishing, if not managed properly, may directly impact the diversity of non-target species (e.g. entanglement of non-target species in gill nets).


5.7 Any trends toward decreased species and population diversity related to native species or beneficial introductions need to be reversed.

5.8 There may be some conflict over the benefit or harm produced by some introduced species (e.g., alewife) and thus actions to be taken related to it.

5.9 Diversity issues need to be addressed at the individual (genetic), population (stock), species and community levels.

5.10 In particular, the genetic variation of locally adapted wild fish stocks should be protected.

5.11 Diversity needs to be conserved through rehabilitation of native fish populations, species, communities and their habitats.

5.12 Recovery plans should be developed for species that are threatened, endangered or of special concern.

5.13 Specific species of concern include lake trout and lake sturgeon; both are the focus of extensive rehabilitation efforts.

Issue 6: Achieve and maintain sustainable sport and commercial Great Lakes fisheries.

6.1 Both historic and current fisheries, including losses and closures, have considerable economic, cultural and social significance.

6.2 Fisheries are dynamic and can fluctuate widely over time and space, as a result of both natural and human impacts.

6.3 Accumulated effects of overfishing, exotic invasions, pollution and habitat destruction collapsed most Great Lakes fish stocks by the 1950's.

6.4 Rehabilitation of the Great Lakes fishery has advanced toward re-establishing many major fish stocks and has provided fish to support large, valuable fisheries.

6.5 Currently, the Great Lakes fishery consists of more than 175 species of fish in a series of overlapping, complex fisheries.

6.6 All fisheries have limited productivity and demand is high enough to over-fish many Great Lakes fisheries.


6.7 Overfishing can, if not managed properly, threaten sustainable fisheries, and must be limited through regulations and controlled access.

6.8 Use of public waters for aquaculture can conflict with use of those waters for natural fish production.

6.9 Bycatch can threaten sustainable fisheries, and must be monitored and controlled; move towards minimising waste in commercial fisheries.

6.10 Conflict exists within and between sport, subsistence and commercial fisheries, and between fisheries and other consumptive and non-consumptive resource users. Any resolution must consider the needs of all groups and the sustainability of the resource.

6.11 Real or perceived conflict may result from competition for food among fish and other taxa (e.g. birds). Any resolution must consider the integrity of the ecosystem as a whole.


6.12 Restriction of public use of the public fisheries must demonstrably enhance public health, safety or welfare.

6.13 Where appropriate, fisheries managers should make anglers and other consumers aware of alternate species to reduce the pressure on popular sport and commercial fish; e.g. encourage anglers to engage in diverse fishing opportunities.

6.14 Stocking is an important management tool; it has the potential to have both positive and negative consequences.

6.15 Judicious stocking is vital in restoring biological integrity, developing spawning populations, and providing fishing opportunities.

6.16 About one-third of all recreational fishing in Michigan depends on stocked fish, including most of the Great Lakes trout and salmon fishery.

6.17 Genetically diverse, disease-free wild or captive spawn sources are required for a strong stocking program.

6.18 Marking and tagging hatchery fish allows the evaluation of their effectiveness and is an essential tool for fisheries management.

6.19 There is a risk of overstocking in the Great Lakes, where several jurisdictions, many stocking locations and species compete for a common forage base.

6.20 Self-sustainability is preferred; opportunities for increased self-sustainability should be favoured over increased opportunities for hatchery-based fisheries where fishing pressure and fish community structures allow.

6.21 Research and assessment are critical to determining how to sustain fisheries.

6.22 Enforced legislation, interstate and international agreements are essential to maintaining sustainable fisheries.

Issue 7: Native Americans have treaty fishing rights in the Great Lakes.

7.1 Fishing for food and trade was important to Great Lakes' tribes prior to European settlement; that importance continued after Europeans arrived.

7.2 When the Upper Great Lakes Ottawa and Chippewa tribes signed the Treaties of 1836 and 1855, they retained the right to fish in treaty area waters using traditional gear, i.e. gill nets; this right was upheld in 1976 and 1979 court decisions.

7.3 In an attempt to resolve allocation disputes, the 1985 Consent Decree was put into effect by the U.S. District Court; it allocated and protected fishery resources through a series of commercial, sport and lake trout rehabilitation zones.

7.4 The Consent Decree expired in 2000; a new Consent Agreement has been negotiated that respects treaty rights, works toward a sustainable fishery, and fairly allocates the resource.7.5 Commercial and subsistence fishing continue to be important to tribal members who wish to maintain their culture while conserving the resource. CURRENT OR POTENTIAL GREAT LAKES IMPACTS:

7.5 Commercial and subsistence fishing continue to be important to tribal members who wish to maintain their culture while conserving the resource.

7.6 Trap nets have a potential to reduce bycatch mortality.

7.7 Gill net fishers believe they can minimize bycatch by fishing in specific depths and locations, using the proper mesh size and releasing live, non-target fish.

7.8 Trap nets may be helpful in areas where lake trout and other non-target species exceed target species mortalities.


7.9 The area governed by this treaty is managed by the tribes through the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (formerly the Chippewa Ottawa Treaty Fishery Management Authority); an Executive Council of tribal chairmen, state and federal representatives has been established to address and resolve any fishery issues.

7.10 Decisions related to treaty fisheries must be based on principles of fisheries economics and conservation, the law and court decisions related to Native American fishing.

7.11 Tribal conservation wardens enforce regulations to protect and conserve the treaty fishery and its fishers.

7.12 Tribal biologists and managers work to both conserve and enhance the fishery, and, together with other resource agencies, set total allowable catches in treaty waters.

Issue 8: Manage for sustainable sport and commercial fisheries.
8.1 Great Lakes fishery resources are both highly desired and subject to many human impacts; they require intensive protection and management.

8.2 Fisheries management should involve diverse interests with a stake in fisheries or aquatic resources; this means increased sharing of management responsibilities.

8.3 Public understanding of, acceptance of, and involvement in, Great Lakes fishery management is desired to help achieve management objectives.

8.4 Fisheries management must consider the impacts of land-based actions, i.e. take a watershed-based approach. This involves interactions among agencies, jurisdictions and countries.

8.5 Fisheries managers must be involved with:

  • allocation
  • assessment & research
  • control of harvest (including enforcement)
  • habitat conservation, restoration and enhancement
  • managing fish migrations
  • mitigation and compensation, where continuing damage to stocks or habitat is unavoidable
  • prevention of unintentional introductions
  • public education, including sound conservation practices
  • stock conservation, restoration and enhancement
  • stocking fish
8.6 There are many success stories in Great Lakes management (e.g. collaborations with tribes and among Great Lakes agencies, rehabilitated species/habitats, positive impacts of regulation and mitigation).

Issue 9: Promote resource stewardship.
9.1 The public has a vested interest in the conservation, restoration and enhancement of aquatic resources.

9.2 The public must understand their rights, privileges and responsibilities, and should be made aware of methods to personally help protect and/or improve the resource, and have the opportunity to practice and apply them.

9.3 Public awareness, understanding and action related to the biological, economic, cultural and social consequences of impacts such as exotic species, habitat loss, pollution and overharvest are important to maintaining sustainable fisheries.

9.4 Increased citizen awareness and understanding of the ecology of the Great Lakes will result in citizens as advocates for strategies that support long-term sustainability of the Great Lakes fisheries.

9.5 The public must understand and respect the resource, the regulations and the rights of others, including anglers, commercial fishers, treaty fishers, property owners and the non-fishing public.

Issue 10: Promote responsible recreational fishing.
10.1 Fishing is a positive and acceptable recreational activity for males and females of all races, ages, socio-economic status and physical and mental abilities.

10.2 The benefits of fishing vary from person to person. Some people enjoy the relaxation and beauty of the surroundings, some enjoy the competition, some fish to put food on the table. All forms are acceptable as long as the anglers' actions sustain the resource, respect others and are within the law.

10.3 Fishing safety is important to anglers and those around them.

10.4 Anglers must be front-line stewards with a vested interest in aquatic resource conservation, restoration and enhancement.

10.5 Anglers must be aware of and practice proper release and harvest techniques.

10.6 Anglers, as well as the public, must be aware of their potential role in the dispersal of exotics and the transmission of disease, and take steps to avoid contributing to these problems.

10.7 Anglers must be aware of their potential role in the distribution of toxic chemicals to their families through their catch, and must become knowledgeable of potential health risks and proper cleaning techniques, especially if they are feeding their catch to young children, women of childbearing age and/or senior citizens.

10.8 Maintaining and increasing the number of responsible anglers can help fund management of the fisheries resource. In the US, anglers provide funding for the management of the fisheries resource through licences and the W-B excise tax.

10.9 Participation in recreational fishing has declined in recent years, threatening the future funding of fisheries management, conservation and restoration.

10.10 Access to fisheries, particularly for shore-based anglers, is a critical dimension of the fishing experience; it can be diminished or lost through uncontrolled or inadequately planned development.

10.11 Access is influenced by the availability of fishing and site access information.

10.12 Anglers should understand the variety of equipment and tackle they may choose from and effectively utilize them.

10.13 Resources address: beginning angling techniques, intermediate angling techniques, advanced angling techniques, specific species techniques.

Issue 11: Develop an awareness of fisheries as a profession and help prepare youth for careers in this profession.
11.1 Fisheries and aquatic sciences, together with economics and other social sciences, provide the basis for managing sustainable aquatic resources.

11.2 Fisheries professionals are a credible and reliable source of scientific and technical information concerning conservation and management of fisheries and aquatic resources.

11.3 A variety of fisheries and aquatic management and conservation careers exist. The fields of fisheries science, aquatic conservation and management provide opportunities for motivated, scientifically prepared, and service-oriented people from diverse backgrounds.

11.4 Preparation for a career in fisheries and aquatic science includes an understanding of math and the sciences; professionals should also be well-rounded, with education and experiences in such areas as economics, law, communications, social sciences, and resource management. Fisheries professionals are committed to lifelong learning through continuing education programs designed to increase understanding of ecosystem management.