Climate change transforming where fish in the Great Lakes region live

Trout in hands
Originally published: 
September, 2019

Warming temperatures in the Great Lakes are already causing population shifts among cold water and warm water fish, including those in inland lakes.

Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press

Climate change is warming the waters of the Great Lakes and other lakes and rivers in the region — a big concern to scientists and fisheries managers, as few animals are more sensitive to temperature than fish.

Different fish species need different temperature ranges to thrive. And the region's warming waters are already causing fish population shifts, with the consequences not yet fully understood.

Gretchen Hansen, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology

What fish can be caught where will continue to change over the next few decades — perhaps dramatically. And that will impact — and could harm — a vital economic driver in Michigan. Some 1.1 million anglers contribute $2.3 billion to Michigan's economy each year, through purchases of gear and clothing, booking hotel rooms, buying meals and more, the nonprofit Michigan United Conservation Clubs found in a study released in January.

"If you like bass, things are looking good. But if you like walleye or cisco, things aren't looking as good," said Gretchen Hansen, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota's Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.

At the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and its counterpart agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin and elsewhere throughout the Great Lakes region, planning for how to manage fisheries amid these significant shifts is already a matter of urgent study.