Lake Erie supports a productive Walleye fishery, but elevated nutrient concentrations and algal blooms are persistent problems.
Lake Erie continues to be a good source of high-quality drinking water. Toxic chemicals monitored in Lake Erie are assessed as Fair; while overall long-term trends indicate that concentrations are Unchanging, declines in contaminant concentrations in fish filets are being observed. Lake Erie fish continue to be a nutritious food source, however, restrictions on consumption of certain species of fish continue to be advised in certain areas.
Lake Erie’s beaches and nearshore waters provide Fair opportunities for swimming and other recreational use for the majority of the swimming season. Nutrients and algae continue to be a significant issue and are assessed as Poor. Harmful algal blooms resulting from high concentrations of nutrients occur regularly in the western basin of Lake Erie during the summer months. These blooms can produce toxins, which are harmful to humans and wildlife. Excessive growth of Cladophora continues to be a problem in the eastern basin of the lake which can cause fouling of beaches and shorelines, clog municipal water intakes, and impact tourism and recreational fishing.
Coastal wetland conditions range from Fair to Poor as a result of several factors, including the impacts of invasive species like Phragmites and Hybrid Cattail. The lower food web is generally in Poor condition. However, zooplankton are in Good condition, helping to support abundant prey and predator fish. Prey fish diversity and the proportion of native prey fish species have declined, but despite a changing prey fish community, Lake Erie supports the largest self-sustaining Walleye population in the world. Lake Trout abundance has increased due in part to declines in Sea Lamprey populations. Lake Trout populations in Lake Erie have been entirely supported by stocking for many decades, however, several wild Lake Trout hatchlings were captured in the New York waters of Lake Erie in 2021 providing the first evidence of natural reproduction of Lake Trout in the lake in over 60 years. Self-sustaining populations of Lake Sturgeon are found in St. Clair River, Detroit River and the Upper Niagara River. Increased aquatic habitat connectivity due to dam removal and mitigation projects is further supporting the increasing predator and prey fish populations in the lake. The status of invasive Sea Lamprey is Good with the number of adult Sea Lamprey being maintained below the target, and the trend is Improving. Invasive mussels are impacting nutrient cycling by retaining and recycling nutrients in nearshore and bottom areas of the lake through their filtering and excretion activities. Lake Erie has the highest number of aquatic non-native species as the warmer, highly productive waters provide a more hospitable environment for these species.
Groundwater quality is assessed as Good based on nitrate and chloride concentrations. Land-based stressors continue to impact Lake Erie. Shifts in climate trends such as earlier onset of stratification and decreasing ice cover, may also have ecosystem implications.