Center researchers using grant to help keep lake whitefish harvesting ecologically and economically viable

Harvested lake whitefish. Photo by Eric A. MacMillan.

April 7, 2011

As climate change causes the surface temperatures of the Great Lakes to rise, lake whitefish are expected to move further north and deeper in the water column, potentially changing the value of this $16-million-per-year industry.

To help fish managers develop optimal harvest strategies in the face of this migration, Abigail Lynch, university distinguished fellow and fisheries doctoral student, and William Taylor, University Distinguished Professor in global fisheries systems, have received a grant from the Great Lakes Regional Sciences and Assessment Center (GLISA) to develop a decision support tool.

Both Lynch and Taylor are members of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability.

“This is really an international adaptation issue,” said Lynch. “Lake whitefish stocks potentially won’t fit within state or country boundaries when the climate changes. State, provincial, and tribal managers will need to adapt their strategies to the changing conditions. It’s advantageous for all the managers to cooperate as the fish move.”

The computerized tool will allow managers to input variables such as temperature, ice cover, precipitation, current fish population information, and level of fishing pressure to then compare the outcomes of various harvest strategies.

“So if managers want to harvest a certain number of fish in 2020, they’ll be able to decide which management decisions they need to make to harvest the same number of fish in 2050,” Lynch said. “We hope this tool can serve as a model system for other fisheries in and outside the Great Lakes that will be affected by climate change and other global environmental processes.”