Lake trout proliferation means uncertain future for Great Lakes whitefish fishery

Lake Trout (Shutter Stock)

BURNT ISLAND – While the proliferation of zebra and quagga mussels in the Great Lakes has adversely affected the commercial fishery, a more than a century-old commercial fishing business on the West End of Manitoulin Island says lake trout have become more of a problem in affecting whitefish populations. In fact, George Purvis of Purvis Fishery said if his business, which has been in the Purvis family since 1882, doesn’t see an increase in whitefish populations in area waters, and more access-quota being provided to fish other species, the future of the business may be in jeopardy in a few years.

“The whitefish population is collapsing and if things continue, soon customers won’t be able to buy whitefish in our trucks parked in Gore Bay every week during the summer,” Mr. Purvis told the Recorder on Monday. He explained that part of the problem is that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has for the past few years planted half a million lake trout in the North Channel area every year. The trout are feeding on smelts as well as whitefish.

“We can’t get enough quota for other species of fish. They’ve wrecked a fishery that’s five generations old and if things keep going we will have to stop in a couple of years,” said Mr. Purvis. “No, for pickerel and lake trout we can’t get a quota for either from the ministry (MNRF). They (MNRF) have reduced our whitefish quota. It’s like they are trying to put us out of business.”

“I think trout are having a lot more impact on declining whitefish populations than the mussels,” said Mr. Purvis, commenting in reference to an article in which his daughter Denise was asked about invasive mussels being a challenge for commercial whitefish fishing in the Great Lakes.

In an article in the Great Lakes Echo May 30 edition (which was republished with permission through the Spartan Newsroom) it was explained that since the mid-1990s the arrival of zebra and quagga mussels have become synonymous with the problem of invasive species in the Great Lakes. They’ve colonized the lakes and negatively impacted the lakes’ ecology.

With the decline in whitefish stocks, Great Lakes commercial whitefish fishermen have fallen on hard times. Whitefish have been in decline across much of Lakes Michigan and Huron and many scientists and fishers suspect part of the reason is linked to the effects the mussels have had on the lake’s food web, the article explains. Ms. Purvis was quoted as saying the health of the fishery in northern Lake Huron is not healthy whatsoever.

Mr. Purvis agrees that the zebra and quagga mussels are a problem. He said in some cases you can see the top of fish nets as much as a hundred feet down in the water. “That’s how clear the water is. There is not near enough phosphorous for the fish.”