The Great Lakes have a high potential for the conduct of research and useful application of research findings, but the history of the Great Lakes indicates that extensive research and intensive management have failed to prevent deterioration of the fisheries. At times the research was not done before a loss occurred, or did not provide the information needed to solve a problem, or was not interpreted to indicate a need for corrective action.
Three examples are used to illustrate these problems: (1) Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) research was not initiated until 50 years after the destructiveness of the sea lamprey was recognized, and control measures were not developed or applied until species most vulnerable to the lamprey had been greatly reduced or eliminated. (2) Most research on the alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) has been directed toward determining why large numbers of alewives die during the spring and summer, but has not provided the information most urgently needed by management to use alewives to best advantage, or to reduce the biological or human problems that alewives cause. (3) After a study during 1926-30 to determine if pollution was affecting fish in Lake Erie, it was concluded that the detrimental effects of pollution in certain regions were offset by the benefits of enrichment in other areas, but managers were not warned that areas of pollution might expand, and eventually influence the entire lake. The Great Lakes ecosystem is complex and in a state of rapid change. Thus, the outcome from the application of theory is uncertain at best and there can be no assurance that the desired results will be attained. The programs for sea lamprey control and salmonid restoration are a current example of difficulty in application of theory in management. Superficially the sea lamprey appears to be under control and salmonids have been restored. The postcontrol abundance of sea lampreys, however, is equal to the abundance that caused the initial collapse of the lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), and there is evidence that the damage lampreys are inflicting on lake trout is as heavy as it was in the precontrol period. Also, in the presence of an abundance of hatchery-reared salmonids, the lamprey is reproducing and thriving as well as or better than it did during its initial population explosion, and indications are that it will increase rather than decrease under the present method and level of control. Successful application of theory and research to fishery management has always been impeded by lack of continued and close coordination among some 30-40 state, provincial, and federal governmental units that have varying degrees of influence on fishery programs of the Great Lakes. Frequently agreements that have been reached among conservation agencies were not sustained by legislative units, or were nullified by organizational changes. As a result, conflicting approaches were sometimes taken by management agencies with jurisdiction in different areas of the same lake. Sustained and compatible management objectives and practices can, however, contribute to greater stability, and optimum usefulness and productivity.
Additional publication details
Application of theory and research in fishery management of the Laurentian Great Lakes