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The Great Lakes. Physical Aspects Geologic Origin Physical Features Fish Community Overview Lake Trout, Whitefish and the Lamprey invasion. Surface area: 245,000 km 2 Drainage basin: 753,950 km 2. 1. 3. Superior Michigan Huron Erie Ontario. 5. 2. 4. >12,000 B.C. ~11,700 B.C.

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the great lakes
The Great Lakes
  • Physical Aspects
    • Geologic Origin
    • Physical Features
  • Fish Community
    • Overview
    • Lake Trout, Whitefish and the Lamprey invasion

Surface area: 245,000 km2

Drainage basin: 753,950 km2



  • Superior
  • Michigan
  • Huron
  • Erie
  • Ontario




the great lakes glaciation

>12,000 B.C.

~11,700 B.C.

Lake Chicago

Earliest lake Chicago

Lake Arkoma

Lake Maumee

~9,500 B.C.


Lake Keweenaw

Lake Chicago

Lake Chicago

Lake Warren

The Great Lakes: glaciation
the great lakes glaciation4
The Great Lakes: glaciation

~6,000 B.C.


~2,000 B.C


bathymetry of the great lakes
Bathymetry of the Great Lakes

morphoedaphic index
Morphoedaphic Index

Regier and Schlesinger 1982 TAFS

commercial fish catch all species and all great lakes combined
Commercial fish catch, all species and all Great Lakes combined

Kelso et al. 1996 CJFAS Suppl.

great lakes fish community
Great Lakes Fish Community

Lake sturgeon

  • Native fauna:
  • 153 species
  • 64 genera
  • 25 families
  • Present (2002):
  • 179 species
  • 29 families

Lake herring

Blackfin cisco (Extirpated)


invasive species in the great lakes
Invasive species in the Great Lakes


  • Introductions:
  • 25 fish species:
  • 14 intentionally
  • 5 via canals
  • 6 accidental release or ballast water
  • Ashworth (1986) estimated that 95% of GL fish biomass was non-native species

Rainbow smelt

Round goby

McCrimmon Jr. 2002 Lakes and Reservoirs: Research and Management 7:241-254

Bluespotted sunfish

lake trout salvelinus namaycush
Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush)
  • Spawn in fall in boulder or rubble reefs, shallow to 37 m
  • Mature at age 6-7
  • Fecundity ~ 1,000-18,000
  • Feed on alewife, smelt, sculpin and coregonids
  • Catches averaged about 6.8 million kg/yr (US + Canada)

Mingeouk girl and Lake trout, Port Epworth c.1913


Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

courtesy Steve Geving, Minnesota DNR


Two of the lake trout phenotypes in Lake Superior:

Siscowet lake trout live in deep water, grow slowly, and have such high lipid content that they are not valued in commercial fisheries

Lean lake trout (the more prototypical lake

trout) lives in nearshore waters of Lake Superior

courtesy Mark Ebener, Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority


Siscowet feeding ecology

The high oil content of the siscowet may function, in part, for buoyancy control. In very fatty ones, even the swim bladder is filled with fat. Although thought of as a deep water fish they seem to move up and down a lot.

Siscowet have been caught 100 m down with such things in their stomachs as ants, ees, moths, sparrows and even a bat (!), indicating that they fed near or at the surface.


Lake trout often form “eco-phenotypes” with discrete morphology, diet, behavior, and distribution. The forms may be genetically distinct.

Photos courtesy of Paul Bentzen, Dalhousie University

lake whitefish coregonus clupeaformis
Lake Whitefish Coregonus clupeaformis)
  • Spawn in fall (Nov. and Dec. in GL), water <7.6 m, over hard, stony bottom or sand
  • Fecundity: 8,200-16,100
  • Up to 19 kg (L. Superior 1912) and 17 years (oldest recorded: 28 yrs)
  • Planktivores, also eat small fish and mollusks (note slightly down-turned mouth)
lake whitefish
Lake Whitefish
  • Great Lakes 1948 catch was 7.95 million kg
  • In the1850s people with a 10 x 300 ft beach seine could catch up to 40,000 fish in one night!
sea lamprey petromyzon marinus
Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus)
  • Anadromous lamprey of North America and Europe
  • Range: Florida to Newfoundland; Iceland to North Africa
  • Small landlocked populations: Lake Champlain, Finger Lakes, Lake Ontario? (Waldman 2004)
sea lamprey
Sea Lamprey
  • Spawn in spring
  • Fecundity: 34,000 to 110,000 max: >200,000
  • Eggs ~ 1 mm
  • Feeding by adults ceases prior to upstream migration
  • Eggs hatch in about 2 weeks; ammocoetes leave nest at 18-21 days (total).
  • Drift downstrem; burrow ~ 13 mm down into fine sediment


sea lamprey25
Sea Lamprey
  • Ammocoetes filter-feed on algae, diatoms, detritus, protozoans
  • Transformation takes few weeks; migrate downstream in late fall
  • Teeth rasp a hole in skin of prey and body fluids are consumed
  • “Lamphredin” inhibits coagulation of blood
  • May penetrate body wall
  • Kill small hosts; weaken large ones

The ammocoete periods usually last 3 years in the Great Lakes but can be as long as 10 in less productive streams


Lake Champlain (flows north to the St. Lawrence)

Erie Canal

Hudson River (flows south to New York)

1823: Lake Champlain connected to the Hudson River

1825: Lake Erie connected to the Hudson River


Niagara Falls, a nice place to get married (?) but tough for navigation

Also, a nice way to isolate the fishes in the upper Great Lakes from the lower part of the system

sea lamprey invasion of the great lakes
Sea Lamprey Invasion of the Great Lakes

Superior 1938

St. Lawrence River

Huron 1932

Ontario 1800s?

Michigan 1934

Hudson River

Erie Canal

Erie 1921

Atlantic Ocean


Welland Canal: 1829, re-built 1914-1932. Connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario

St. Lawrence River

Lake Ontario

Hudson River

Erie Canal: 1825, connects Lake Erie to the Hudson River

Lake Erie

Atlantic Ocean


What attracts lamprey to fish?

In general, lamprey prefer to attack larger host fish rather than smaller ones, and fish with smaller (or no) scales are also more vulnerable.

Thus heavily scaled fishes such carp, perch, and suckers are less often parasitized than burbot, catfish, and salmonids.


Large scales (yellow perch, top; white sucker, bottom)

Small scales (lake trout, top; burbot, bottom)

lake trout size and vulnerability to lamprey
Lake trout size and vulnerability to lamprey

Swink 1990. Trans. Amer. Fish Soc. 119:996-1002

how do fish survive
How do fish survive?
  • When lamprey attack a fish, they consume blood and body fluids and the fish takes on water. Thus the nutritional value of the fish declines for the lamprey and it may drop off if there are other fish in the vicinity.

Troy Jaecks photo

analysis of catch per unit effort coble et al 1990 tafs 119 985 995
Analysis of catch per unit effort(Coble et al. 1990. TAFS 119:985-995)
  • Coble et al. 1990 concluded that Huron and Michigan crashes can be attributed exclusively to lamprey but there is evidence that over-fishing in Superior was a contributing factor.
populations of lake trout and sea lamprey in lake superior
Populations of lake trout and sea lamprey in Lake Superior


sea lamprey invasion
Sea Lamprey invasion
  • Lake Ontario – kept in check by some unknown force
  • 1870s lamprey caused problems in Finger Lakes of New York
  • Completion of the Welland Canal around Niagara Falls (44 km long; 8 locks) allowed invasion of the upper Great Lakes
  • Decreased lake trout to about 10% of their former abundance (virtually eliminated from all but Lake Superior)
  • With fishing, fewer large fish were available and small trout killed
  • Attempts to eradicate lamprey led to the Great Lakes Fishery
  • Commission (1955)
  • 1961 – peak lamprey population
  • Presently reduced to about 10% of the peak levels


  • TFM (3-trifluoro-methyl-4-nitrophenol), mechanical weirs, electric fences
  • TFM kills ammocoetes
  • First applied in Lake Superior 1958
  • First success in 1962 when lamprey pop. 14% of 1961 pop.
  • 1962-1978 catches reduced from 4-21% of 1961 catch
problems with tfm
Problems with TFM
  • TFM application is costly; will we always be willing to pay for it?
  • There are some mortalities to non-target fishes, and notably native parasitic lamprey species (chestnut and silver lamprey) that are of conservation concern. These native species co-evolved with the rest of the fish community and did not dominate it.
lake superior lake trout catches
Lake Superior lake trout catches

Catches in U.S.

Splake = hybrid speckled (=brook) x lake trout

Bronte et al. 2003 CJFAS 60:1552-1574

lake superior stocked lake trout
Lake Superior stocked lake trout

Millions Stocked

Bronte et al. 2003 CJFAS 60:1552-1574

Splake = hybrid speckled (=brook) x lake trout

relative abundance cpue of siscowet lake trout in the commercial gill net fishery lake superior
Relative abundance (CPUE) of siscowet lake trout in the commercial gill-net fishery, Lake Superior

Bronte et al. 2003 CJFAS 60:1552-1574

Relative abundance of wild and hatchery-reared lean lake trout in spring stock assessments in U.S. waters of Lake Superior

Lean lake trout



Bronte et al. 2003 CJFAS 60:1552-1574

lake trout in nearshore commercial fisheries in canadian waters
Lake trout in nearshore commercial fisheries in Canadian waters

lean and siscowet

Bronte et al. 2003 CJFAS 60:1552-1574

hatchery and wild production
Hatchery and wild production
  • The lake trout in Lake Superior are primarily wild (= naturally produced) whereas those in the other lakes are predominately of hatchery origin, and effort to wean the systems off hatchery plants have not been successful. The persistence of native gene pools in Lake Superior (in the cold, deep water refuge from lamprey) may be a factor.
biomass of lake whitefish in lake superior
Biomass of lake whitefish in Lake Superior

Kg per ha

0 2 4 6 8 10



1978 1982 1986 1990 1994 1998

Bronte et al. 2003 CJFAS 60:1552-1574

commercial catch of lake whitefish from lake huron







Catch (M kg)

1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000


Commercial catch of lake whitefish from Lake Huron

Dobiesz et al. 2005. CJFAS 62: 1432-1451


Colonization of the Great Lakes by pink salmon after the accidental release of 21,000 fry into the Current River

Fry, 1956