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The history and current status of walleye (Stizostedion vitreum vitreum) stocks in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair are reviewed in relation to their exploitation by commercial and recreational fishermen, environmental factors, rehabilitation efforts, and community dynamics. Management initiatives and stock recovery under these processes are outlined.
After the collapse of the fishery in 1957, the highly productive walleye stock of western Lake Erie remained depressed through the 1960s, while the eastern basin stock remained stable. Closure of the fishery for walleye from 1970-73 because of mercury contamination provided an opportunity for the development of an international interagency management plan. With quota management, the walleye stock in western Lake Erie responded well to limited exploitation, steadily increased, and expanded its range. As population expanded, growth began to decline and was more apparent in the young-of-the-year (YOY) in the 1970s, and in older walleye in the late 1970s and 1980s.
At the turn of the century, commercial harvest of walleye in Lake St. Clair ranged from 12-127 tonnes annually. A relatively stable period from 1910-59 was followed by significantly increased harvests (100-150 t) in 1959-65. This increase was a result of increased commercial exploitation as well as an increased abundance of walleye. After the mercury contamination problem of 1970, angling effort and harvest was reduced but then gradually increased in Ontario waters from 37 t in 1973 to 62 t in 1988. The increased mean age of the stock during the early 1970s was due to a few strong year-classes (1970, 1972, and 1974) as well as a period of stable or reduced catch per unit effort. With the current mean age not reduced significantly, the stocks of walleye should continue to provide good yields.