Fishery resources include the fishes, the other biota they interact with, and the habitats they occupy. The historical sequences in the use and management of these resources may be considered as a series of interacting sequences of change. These sequences can span from social, economic, institutional and landscape changes, through water quality, habitat supply, and climate changes, to biotic composition changes, introductions and extinctions, and species harvest changes. A selection of these sequences is examined for the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes which has been subjected to intense development and study over the last 200 years. While the whole basin is considered, some detailed attention is given to Lake Ontario and, within it, the Bay of Quinte. Brief selective development histories are given for the three areas as context. The management history is outlined and critiqued. While much progress has been achieved in cleaning up the load-driven problems in the basin, little secure progress toward rehabilitation and sustainability has been achieved. In the current period of economic problems, governments, particularly Canada’s, are undoing past ecosystem management progress.

The development of St. Lawrence-Great Lakes’ ecosystem science has drawn heavily from both oceanography and limnology. A brief, selective overview of several progressions in ecosystem science illustrates how knowledge and understanding of this ecosystem has expanded over the last 60 years, providing an improved basis for management action. As with use and management, the science of fishery resource management has consisted of many historical progressions. The many sequences in the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes management and science histories lend support for recognition of (i) the importance of taking an ecosystem approach to renewable resource management, (ii) the value of adaptive management practices and, particularly, (iii) the vital complementary roles of long-term monitoring and mathematical modelling.

Introduction

This essay is concerned with the identification and assessment of progressions, sequences of progress, with respect to the science and management of large lake ecosystems. As context I will begin with some quotations:

  • George Bernard Shaw (Irish playwright, 1856–1950): “All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions” — This is a reminder that changing our ideas is insufficient alone. We also need to change how our society operates if the benefits of the ideas are to flourish.

  • Gaston Bachelard (French philosopher, 1884–1962): “The characteristic of scientific progress is our knowing that we did not know.” — This statement speaks to the centrality of discovery and understanding to science.

  • Thor Heyerdahl (Norwegian ethnologist, 1914–2002: “Progress is man’s ability to complicate simplicity.” — This last I disagree with and would reverse to read as “Progress is man’s ability to simplify complexity.” I think that significant progress is usually marked by the integration of many accumulated events and observations into much simpler concepts which make it easier for people to articulate and defend actions.

We have witnessed significant progressions and progress over the past 50 years in the science and management of the large lakes of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes (SLGL). The purpose of this essay is to provide an overview of some of the progressions that have occurred with particular attention to their impact on the fisheries of the SLGL. Of necessity, a review of fisheries involves a review of ecosystems since the former is entirely dependent on the latter. This overview consists of four parts: (1) a brief contextual review at three nested spatial scales, SLGL, Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte; (2) a review of the main management activities for both ecosystems and fisheries; (3) a brief synopsis on the evolution of science; (a) a summing up in terms of lessons learned and future prospects.

The St. Lawrence-Great Lakes

Fishery resources include the fishes, the other biota they interact with, and the habitats they occupy. The historical sequences in the use and management of these resources may be considered as a series of interacting sequences of ecosystem change. These sequences can span from social, economic, institutional and landscape changes, through water quality, habitat supply, and climate changes, to biotic composition changes, introductions and extinctions, and species harvest changes. A selection of these sequences is examined for the SLGL which has been subjected to intense use over the last 200 years and studied intensely during the last 60 years. A nested set of ecosystems is considered as context: The SLGL, Lake Ontario and the Bay of Quinte (Figure 1). The history of these ecosystems has been determined by the pattern of occupation and colonization by Europeans, exploitation of the natural resources, and industrialization (Table 1). In the 19th century the population grew steadily as convenient resources (wood, fish, wildlife, water, and minerals) were exploited and wild lands were turned to agriculture and emerging urban use. Shipping was important before the railways developed and urban centres grew up close to navigable waters. The open lakes had large coregonine and salmonine fishery resources while embayments like the Bay of Quinte supported percids, esocids and centrarchids. As population growth accelerated into the 20th century so water quality problems (disease and eutrophication) developed at the urban centres. Industrialization was heavily dependent on water for power and for waste disposal thereby laying a path toward large-scale releases of chemicals and the emergence of bioaccumulating chemicals which caused health problems in biota at higher trophic levels.

Figure 1.

The Great Lakes Basin showing the lakes (white) and their drainage basins (shaded) and the position of the Bay of Quinte ecosystem within Lake Ontario’s basin.

Figure 1.

The Great Lakes Basin showing the lakes (white) and their drainage basins (shaded) and the position of the Bay of Quinte ecosystem within Lake Ontario’s basin.

Table 1.

A brief selective history of the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes, Lake Ontario, and the Bay of Quinte, a nested set of ecosystems.

St. Lawrence-Great LakesLake OntarioBay of Quinte
• The world’s largest body of freshwater.
• Major colonization route into North America.
• Large fisheries from the 1800’s on, heavily over-exploited and much habitat loss/damage due to negligent development.
• A major hub of industrialization in the 19–20th centuries.
• 20th century Sea Lamprey almost finished off salmonines and coregonines; many exotic salmonines introduced to create new recreational fisheries.
• After eutrophication efforts began in the 1960s and 1970s, major remedial actions focused on 40+ areas from the 1980s on.
• Home to 36 M (⅓ Canadian) in 2012. 
• Deep oligotrophic lake.
• Supported large Coregonine, Atlantic Salmon and Lake Trout fisheries.
• Sea Lamprey and over-exploitation destroyed the cold-water fisheries.
• Large-scale human development (eutrophication, habitat loss, etc.) with concentration of chemical industries led to serious contamination and toxicity problems mid 20th century.
• Major chemical load reductions begun in the 1970s–1980s.
• Invasive species have caused many ecosystem changes.
• Pacific salmon fisheries are sustained by stocking. Lake Trout rehabilitation has been very slow. 
• Occupied by Empire Loyalists in the late 18th century. Deforestation of watershed, many mill dams. Pioneer farming on sedimentary areas. Entrance to a major inland waterway.
• Heavily eutrophied after the 1940s. Water levels regulated.
• Major point source phosphorus controls implemented in the 1970s.
• The Bay and the nearby lake outlet basin support much of the warm- and cool-water fisheries.
• Walleye an important 20th century species but likely a blip in an on-going successional sequence. 
St. Lawrence-Great LakesLake OntarioBay of Quinte
• The world’s largest body of freshwater.
• Major colonization route into North America.
• Large fisheries from the 1800’s on, heavily over-exploited and much habitat loss/damage due to negligent development.
• A major hub of industrialization in the 19–20th centuries.
• 20th century Sea Lamprey almost finished off salmonines and coregonines; many exotic salmonines introduced to create new recreational fisheries.
• After eutrophication efforts began in the 1960s and 1970s, major remedial actions focused on 40+ areas from the 1980s on.
• Home to 36 M (⅓ Canadian) in 2012. 
• Deep oligotrophic lake.
• Supported large Coregonine, Atlantic Salmon and Lake Trout fisheries.
• Sea Lamprey and over-exploitation destroyed the cold-water fisheries.
• Large-scale human development (eutrophication, habitat loss, etc.) with concentration of chemical industries led to serious contamination and toxicity problems mid 20th century.
• Major chemical load reductions begun in the 1970s–1980s.
• Invasive species have caused many ecosystem changes.
• Pacific salmon fisheries are sustained by stocking. Lake Trout rehabilitation has been very slow. 
• Occupied by Empire Loyalists in the late 18th century. Deforestation of watershed, many mill dams. Pioneer farming on sedimentary areas. Entrance to a major inland waterway.
• Heavily eutrophied after the 1940s. Water levels regulated.
• Major point source phosphorus controls implemented in the 1970s.
• The Bay and the nearby lake outlet basin support much of the warm- and cool-water fisheries.
• Walleye an important 20th century species but likely a blip in an on-going successional sequence. 

Fisheries were already heavily exploited by the end of the 19th century and the problems intensified with the modernization of fishing technology into the 20th century. Shipping canals and increased shipping from beyond the Great Lakes brought a living stream of invasive species alongside those deliberately introduced with the intent of enhancement the ecosystems, e.g. Common Carp was introduced as it was an important traditional food among the European-origin immigrant population. After the 1939–1945 world war, development activities and population size accelerated in the basin intensifying the environment impacts that arise when development is based on unsustainable assumptions. By the 1960s ecosystem damage had become widespread in the basin.

In the Great Lakes as a whole, the fisheries were seriously depleted due to the combined effects of exploitation, Sea Lamprey parasitism, foodweb disruptions due to non-native species and ecosystem alterations, chemical contamination. In Lake Ontario, Lake Trout was almost extinct, coregonine stocks were seriously depleted, human-health threatening chemical had contaminated much of the lake and its biota, and large urban centres had large eutrophication problems. In the Bay of Quinte, eutrophication became a major issue from the 1940s on, the main percid fishery collapsed in the late 1950s due in part to eutrophication and invasive species, and large areas of macrophyte cover disappeared in the late 1950s.

On all three spatial scales, considerable progress has been achieved since the 1970s particularly with respect to reducing or eliminating load-sustained and -driven stressors such as phosphorus (the primary cause of eutrophication) and many deleterious chemical substances notably health- threatening organic chemicals like PCBs, Dioxins, DDT, methyl-mercury and lead. All levels of government and industries combined to expand waste treatment facilities and, in many instances, to ban production of some chemicals entirely. Major fishery restoration efforts were based on controlling Sea Lamprey population primarily by using of a lampricide and on introduction stock (or load)-maintained populations of Pacific salmonines whilst longer-term efforts to restore native stocks proceeded.

Unfortunately, efforts to limit load-driven stressors have only bought time as the underlying causes, human populations and their expanding resource consumption rates, have continued to increase. Over the same period, the accumulated losses of ecosystem goods and services resulting from permanent losses and deleterious alterations of ecosystem habitats (e.g. lake infilling and shoreline hardening) or from the foodweb disruptions of many successful invasive species (e.g. Driessenid Mussels, Common Carp and European Common Reed) have only been partially offset with small-scale restoration efforts. The next section explores the history of management actions in more depth.

A brief management history

The management of the SLGL basin can be viewed by considering the history of two key institutions, the International Joint Commission and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and, to a lesser degree, the times before they were established. The early period may be characterized by the rapid colonization, development, and population growth in the century following the American Revolution. Population centres grew rapidly around the lake, fed by waves of immigration as the natural resource wealth (forests, mines, and water power) was exploited and the industrialization of Europe spilled across the Atlantic. Environment was little considered in this period and fisheries were viewed as limitless as utilitarian and pioneer thinking prevailed. Later in the 19th century as urban centres and trade expanded, the lack of provision for sanitation led to disease problems, land clearance and hydrological disturbances released soils into watercourses and destroyed wetlands thereby impacting fisheries, and over-exploitation became widespread.

As the consequences of unfettered development became apparent so transboundary issues arose and the need for dispute resolution mechanisms was recognized. In 1909, Canada and the United States signed the Boundary Waters Treaty (BWT) setting up the means to resolve conflicts and to cultivate action in areas of joint interest in the Great Lakes and other areas along the long Canada-U.S. border. A key instrument of that Treaty was the establishment of the International Joint Commission (IJC) which continues to this day to oversee many issues of concern to the two countries. The IJC oversaw numerous independent studies of issues seeking solutions. By the middle of the 20th century the impacts of eutrophication on lakes and rivers were obvious in many western countries. The eutrophication problem was attributable to three main sources: (i) excess nutrients in sewage waste released untreated by urban centres, (ii) nutrients released from soils either due to land disturbance or due to excess fertilizer use and (iii) the rise in the use of phosphate-based chemicals in cleaning compounds. After research clearly showed that phosphorus loading was the primary culprit in freshwaters, large investments were begun to reduce phosphorus loading. In the Great Lakes, following studies by the IJC, the two countries signed the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (US State Dept., 1972) which is a permanent reference under the BWT and included agreed loading targets for each lake and country. Other water quality management issues were also addressed in the agreement. The GLWQA was renewed in 1978, revised in 1987 by Protocol with the guiding concept of the “Ecosystem Approach” being added. A further revision was negotiated beginning in January 2010, was signed on 7 September 2012, and entered into force on 12 February 2013.

Another significant binational Great Lakes institution, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission (GLFC), was established in 1955 under the Great Lakes Fisheries Convention. Previously cross-border fishery disputes had been referred to the IJC. Continued declines in key fish stocks, particularly among salmonines and coregonines, were compounded by the devastating impacts of the Sea Lamprey in the 1930–1940s after 1919 improvements to the Welland Canal connecting Lakes Ontario and Erie allowed the parasite to penetrate into the upper lakes. The GLFC was charged with coordinating fisheries management and research where binational interests arose, arbitrating disputes, and, most importantly, implementing a program to control Sea Lamprey. The control program has been highly successful albeit that it will be required permanently as eradication is not deemed possible. Once Sea Lamprey controls began to have impact and because recovery of native Lake Trout and other fish stocks was expected to be a long-term challenge, the GLFC also coordinated efforts to promote new put-and-take fisheries especially for recreational fishers centred on Pacific salmonines like Coho and Chinook.

As the activities of the GLFC and its partners evolved in the 1960–1970s, they became increasingly engaged in the activities in the water quality and ecosystem management arenas, recognizing the key role that healthy fish and fisheries have as symbols of success. The GLFC parties developed the Joint Strategic Great Lakes Fisheries Management Plan in 1981and revised in 1997 with four key elements: consensus decision-making, accountability, information sharing and, notably, an ecosystem-based approach to management.

Both key institutions, the IJC and the GLFC, have largely operated as arms-length authorities where scientific and technical analyzes have been a key features coupled with decision-making shared among the representatives of the many parties involved for states, provinces and countries. Progressive science-based ideas on three fronts have guided the Great Lakes institutions and peoples to new ways of thinking about how manage the natural environment: (1) sustainable development (The Environment, Its People, and Their Economy); (2) ecosystem approach (balancing ecological, social, and economic concerns); (3) Fish Habitat (Habitat, Fishes, Fisheries).

However, as a brief decadal synopsis of activities since the Second World War (Table 2) shows, complete realization of the ideals remains out of reach. Many able managers and scientists have come together in the shared institutions and fora, such as the long-standing annual meetings of the International Association of Great Lakes Research (IAGLR). However, many agencies have ultimately remained entrenched in their dated, home-based, siloed command-and-control management regimes (McLaughlin and Krantzberg, 2012). This has occurred despite the proliferation of a diversity of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) lobbying for a growing range of ecosystem management concerns. While the sciences have evolved spawning new knowledge and understanding as a basis for wise choice of management actions, many of the institutions and interests of society have not evolved in parallel such that sustained progress can be hard to discern at present.

Table 2.

A rough decadal synopsis of societal actions in the St. Lawrence-Great Lakes Basin after the Second World War along with some forecasts for coming decades.

Decade Highlights of Societal Activities 
1950s Piecemeal environmental clean-up actions amid rapid post-war economic expansion across the western hemisphere 
1960s Rising public concern and activism especially with regard to eutrophication and toxic chemicals; Beginning of the expansion of municipal waste management infrastructure 
1970s Major environmental clean-up activities going full tilt; Public demanding a greater say in decision-making; Growth of NGOs 
1980s Ecosystem-based management approaches flourish; Coordinate Remedial Action Plans initiated for 46 Areas of Concern (many embayments or large rivers draining into the lakes) 
1990s Institutional gridlock grows alongside greater public involvement; Magnitude of remedial actions needed is perceived along with the need for long-term planning; Realization that sustainable ecosystems require human activities to be bound 
2000s Long-term under-investment in public infrastructure along with opportunist tax cuts lead to environmental budget restraints; Public attention fatigue sets in as the array of issues demanding attention widens in the Internet Age 
2010s Economic crises have led to severe anti-Keynesian austerity measures in the public domain where environmental protection activity sits; A blinkered focus on non-renewable resource-based economic growth is fostering a push-back on environmental management objectives 
 Possible Future 
2020s Old, seemingly solved problems like eutrophication begin to re-emerge 
2030s Climate change’s many synergies will become more noticeable everywhere 
2040s Possibly, 19th century problems like sanitary diseases will return in worse forms 
Decade Highlights of Societal Activities 
1950s Piecemeal environmental clean-up actions amid rapid post-war economic expansion across the western hemisphere 
1960s Rising public concern and activism especially with regard to eutrophication and toxic chemicals; Beginning of the expansion of municipal waste management infrastructure 
1970s Major environmental clean-up activities going full tilt; Public demanding a greater say in decision-making; Growth of NGOs 
1980s Ecosystem-based management approaches flourish; Coordinate Remedial Action Plans initiated for 46 Areas of Concern (many embayments or large rivers draining into the lakes) 
1990s Institutional gridlock grows alongside greater public involvement; Magnitude of remedial actions needed is perceived along with the need for long-term planning; Realization that sustainable ecosystems require human activities to be bound 
2000s Long-term under-investment in public infrastructure along with opportunist tax cuts lead to environmental budget restraints; Public attention fatigue sets in as the array of issues demanding attention widens in the Internet Age 
2010s Economic crises have led to severe anti-Keynesian austerity measures in the public domain where environmental protection activity sits; A blinkered focus on non-renewable resource-based economic growth is fostering a push-back on environmental management objectives 
 Possible Future 
2020s Old, seemingly solved problems like eutrophication begin to re-emerge 
2030s Climate change’s many synergies will become more noticeable everywhere 
2040s Possibly, 19th century problems like sanitary diseases will return in worse forms 

In the future we might expect further reversals (Table 2). After the substantial investments begun in the 1970s and 1980s to rehabilitate the Great Lakes, overall federal and provincial contributions to public infrastructure investments have fallen far behind the levels needed to maintain past investments in Canada. As a result municipal governments are increasingly resisting further investments to secure water quality gains and watershed protections. As suburban sprawl and population growth continue around the basin we should expect that the capacity of existing sewage treatment plants will be reached and new ones added without regard to the established limits to point-source nutrient loading. These events will be overlain and exacerbated by the increasing impacts of climate change on the Great Lakes such as are already evident in the decreasing ice coverage in winter (Wang et al., 2012) and higher summer surface temperatures (Trumpickas et al., 2009). If the ideology-driven austerity programs in the public domain persist we may perhaps see a return of the sanitary diseases that were the scourge of 19th century cities in the Great Lakes basin.

The evolution of ecosystem science

Sitting midway on a spatial scale between oceans and large marine coastal regions, where much of oceanography and fisheries science has evolved, and smaller inland lakes and streams, where much of limnology and water quality/habitat management has evolved, the development of SLGL’s science has drawn heavily from both.

A small sample of recent studies across three spatial resolutions in the Great Lakes basin shows the rich benefits of the many progression sequences (Table 3). Hydro-acoustic assessment of distribution and abundance has expanded over the last 40 years from cumbersome racks of equipment with limited data management to compact integrated multi-sensor systems providing many alternate measures of fish and zooplankton abundance along with detailed pictures of habitat variables (bathymetry, substrates and vegetation). Radio- and acoustic-telemetry techniques have expanded from small boat operators chasing fleeting encounters of single fish to geo-referenced sono-buoy arrays passing back near-instantaneous 3-D positions for tens of fish, along with a widening spectrum of physiological indicators. Recognition of the central role of habitat has grown as intelligence about fish locations and movements has increased. The ability to simulate 3-D water movements and stratification cycles has been greatly enlarged thereby facilitating the ability to look at fish-habitat linkages more closely. Knowledge of the flows and pools of energy, nutrients and contaminants in the ecosystems and their foodwebs has grown as an ever-wider range of techniques, such as stable isotopes, bio-accumulating chemicals, mass balances and ecosystem models, yield insights into connections and dynamics. As in many biological fields, the rise of rapid automated sequencing of DNA and RNA strands has enhanced our appreciation of diversity in aquatic ecosystems, aiding in stock and species identification at all spatial scales. Amid the expansion of analytical techniques, formal consideration of uncertainty and risk is increasingly providing the basis for sounder management and decision-making. In the socio-economic arenas, sociologists’ thoughtful analyses of institutional dynamics are emerging providing the basis for organizational improvements and ecological economists have been developing ways to assess the contribution of the many ecosystem goods and services to sustainable human well-being in the Great Lakes and beyond.

Table 3.

A brief selective overview of recent progress in Great Lakes ecosystem science with emphasis on fish and fisheries.

Topic Great Lakes Lake Ontario Bay of Quinte 
Hydro-acoustics Annual surveys of pelagic stocks on 5 lakes (Rudstam et al., 2009Evaluation of Lake Trout stocking offshore (Lantry et al., 2011Macrophytes surveys every 3–5 years (Leisti et al., 2012
Telemetry Numerous studies with emphasis on Lake Trout, Walleye, Sturgeon (Landsman et al., 2011Nearshore grid along Toronto Waterfront examining residency and habitat selection of several species (S. Doka et al., Pers. Comm, DFO)  
Hydro-dynamics 3-D ELCOM models linking lake hydrodynamics to climate (Leon et al., 2005Long term trends in thermal regime (Huang et al., 20123-D ELCOM modelling for Quinte and the outlet basin of Lake Ontario (ongoing studies Env Canada/Ont Min Env/Leon Boegman Queens) 
Habitat Process-driven models of population dynamics of fish tied to habitat supply (Hayes et al., 2009)
Mapping aquatic biodiversity investment areas for conservation management (Morrison et al., 2001
Basin scale habitat classification scheme (Minns and Wichert, 2005)
Habitat supply limits on Northern Pike in Hamilton Harbour (Minns et al., 1996
Long-term analysis of habitat supply of Walleye in relation to P control, temperature and water levels (Chu et al., 2004
Foodweb Geochemistry has contributed much to the paleolimnology (Meyers, 2003)
Stable isotopes show effects of invasions on top predators (Vander Zanden et al., 1999
Model of PCB transport and fate in foodwebs (Morrison et al., 2002)
Sustainability of stocked salmonine fisheries (Jones et al., 1993
Importance of the microbial foodweb in the pelagic zone of Quinte (Munawar et al., 2011
Mass Balance Hydrodynamic approach to P modelling in Lake Erie (Schwab et al., 2009Tools for predicting the movement of P from soils into the lake (Allaire et al., 2011Phosphorus management model (Minns and Moore, 2004)
Fate of metal contaminants (Gandhi et al., 2011
Ecosystem Modelling Ecopath model of Lake Superior testing reasons for decline of Lake Herring (Cox and Kitchell, 2004) Ecopath model of offshore foodweb pre- vs post-species invasion changes (Stewart and Sprules, 2011Ecopath model of upper BoQ covering pre- and post-P control and post-Zebra (Koops et al., 2009
Genetics Post-glacial dispersal of Walleye viz refugia (Stepien et al., 2009) Diversity in Great Lakes bloaters viz. thier reintroduction into L. Ont. (Fave and Turgeon. 2008) Genetic diversity of Lake Whitefish in BoQ relative to Lake Ontario viz. conservation (Bernard et al., 2009
Uncertainty Integrated pest management of Sea Lampreys (Christie and Goddard, 2003; Jones et al., 2009)
Options for precautionary fisheries management (Fenichel et al., 2008
Expected future declines in fisheries given environmental and cultural change (Rothlisberger et al., 2010 Uncertainty in inputs to phosphorus budget (Arhonditis et al., Pers. Comm UTSC) 
Socio-economics Economic impact of nonidigenous species on ecological services (Rothlisberger et al., 2012)
Analysis of information flows in social structure for GL fisheries management (Leonard et al., 2011)
Historical development of fishery and environmental management practices (Bocking, 1997
Pathological weakness of responsible management agencies (Mclaughlin and Krantzberg, 2012) Analysis of the role of modelling and public consultation in the development of the Quinte remedial action plan (Stride et al., 1992)
Communication of research and monitoring results to management (Berquist et al., 2012)
Long-term studies prospectus (Minns et al., 2011
Topic Great Lakes Lake Ontario Bay of Quinte 
Hydro-acoustics Annual surveys of pelagic stocks on 5 lakes (Rudstam et al., 2009Evaluation of Lake Trout stocking offshore (Lantry et al., 2011Macrophytes surveys every 3–5 years (Leisti et al., 2012
Telemetry Numerous studies with emphasis on Lake Trout, Walleye, Sturgeon (Landsman et al., 2011Nearshore grid along Toronto Waterfront examining residency and habitat selection of several species (S. Doka et al., Pers. Comm, DFO)  
Hydro-dynamics 3-D ELCOM models linking lake hydrodynamics to climate (Leon et al., 2005Long term trends in thermal regime (Huang et al., 20123-D ELCOM modelling for Quinte and the outlet basin of Lake Ontario (ongoing studies Env Canada/Ont Min Env/Leon Boegman Queens) 
Habitat Process-driven models of population dynamics of fish tied to habitat supply (Hayes et al., 2009)
Mapping aquatic biodiversity investment areas for conservation management (Morrison et al., 2001
Basin scale habitat classification scheme (Minns and Wichert, 2005)
Habitat supply limits on Northern Pike in Hamilton Harbour (Minns et al., 1996
Long-term analysis of habitat supply of Walleye in relation to P control, temperature and water levels (Chu et al., 2004
Foodweb Geochemistry has contributed much to the paleolimnology (Meyers, 2003)
Stable isotopes show effects of invasions on top predators (Vander Zanden et al., 1999
Model of PCB transport and fate in foodwebs (Morrison et al., 2002)
Sustainability of stocked salmonine fisheries (Jones et al., 1993
Importance of the microbial foodweb in the pelagic zone of Quinte (Munawar et al., 2011
Mass Balance Hydrodynamic approach to P modelling in Lake Erie (Schwab et al., 2009Tools for predicting the movement of P from soils into the lake (Allaire et al., 2011Phosphorus management model (Minns and Moore, 2004)
Fate of metal contaminants (Gandhi et al., 2011
Ecosystem Modelling Ecopath model of Lake Superior testing reasons for decline of Lake Herring (Cox and Kitchell, 2004) Ecopath model of offshore foodweb pre- vs post-species invasion changes (Stewart and Sprules, 2011Ecopath model of upper BoQ covering pre- and post-P control and post-Zebra (Koops et al., 2009
Genetics Post-glacial dispersal of Walleye viz refugia (Stepien et al., 2009) Diversity in Great Lakes bloaters viz. thier reintroduction into L. Ont. (Fave and Turgeon. 2008) Genetic diversity of Lake Whitefish in BoQ relative to Lake Ontario viz. conservation (Bernard et al., 2009
Uncertainty Integrated pest management of Sea Lampreys (Christie and Goddard, 2003; Jones et al., 2009)
Options for precautionary fisheries management (Fenichel et al., 2008
Expected future declines in fisheries given environmental and cultural change (Rothlisberger et al., 2010 Uncertainty in inputs to phosphorus budget (Arhonditis et al., Pers. Comm UTSC) 
Socio-economics Economic impact of nonidigenous species on ecological services (Rothlisberger et al., 2012)
Analysis of information flows in social structure for GL fisheries management (Leonard et al., 2011)
Historical development of fishery and environmental management practices (Bocking, 1997
Pathological weakness of responsible management agencies (Mclaughlin and Krantzberg, 2012) Analysis of the role of modelling and public consultation in the development of the Quinte remedial action plan (Stride et al., 1992)
Communication of research and monitoring results to management (Berquist et al., 2012)
Long-term studies prospectus (Minns et al., 2011

Back-stopping the explosive growth in the many areas of ecosystem science has been the continuing rapid evolution of computer technology and the Internet coupled with the similar expansion of statistical, analytical, and data management tools.

Lessons learned

Over the last 50 years, science methodology and analytical tools have grown dramatically, with the concentrated efforts in the Great Lakes Basin making significant contributions. This has fuelled a vastly increased understanding of the structural and functional dynamics of aquatic ecosystems, even as the array and strength of human-induced stressors continued, and continues to this day, to expand. These developments have led to the wide appreciation that successful management of human activities requires both an ecosystembased approach and a greater understanding of how humans make decisions, i.e. often irrationally based on instinctive fast-brain thinking rather than logically after careful consideration and analysis of many factors (Kahneman, 2011; Ariely, 2008). Society has become much more aware of and sensitized to its ecosystem management challenges due to the science-based actions to curb load-driven problems and the increased pressure from the many speaking up for conservation, restoration and protection of ecosystems. Unfortunately, the scientists and the understanding they have gathered are having a declining influence on public affairs as the demands of special interests continue to take precedence over communal needs, as the economy trumps the ecology (as usual).

However, it is useful to distil scientific understanding into a brief series of points:

  • Whole ecosystem view: We always need to use a wide-angle lens as there can be no externalities with ecosystems (Minns, 1999). For many this has become the established norm in the Great Lakes basin (GLB) and particularly for fishers and fishery scientists and managers.

  • Keep monitoring: As with any complex systems, e.g. weather, stock market, and large-scale ecosystems, wise management depends on a spectrum of continuing intelligence inputs (Minns et al., 2011). GLB fisheries agencies have supported an excellent long-term set of complementary programs while the water quality agencies have had mixed success.

  • Beware of the inertia of cumulative impacts: The accumulated impacts and pressures of past actions always weigh heavily on the present (Rees, 1995). While much clean-up progress has been achieved, in the GLB population and sub-urbanization have continued unchecked.

  • We are rehabilitating not restoring ecosystems: We cannot undo all the damage and changes and must settle for making what remains sustainable for the long term. In the GLB the irrevocable loss of much habitat, the less-than-pristine state of much of what remains, and the many established non-indigenous species preclude complete restoration of many ecosystem features.

  • Strive to involve all of society: In both the fisheries and ecosystem management arenas agencies in the GLB have greatly expanded their engagement with stakeholders and interested parties in recent decades although too often environmental advocacy groups just become special interests competing with the influence of the dominant capitalist interests.

  • Beware of shifting baselines: If society is inattentive to deteriorating ecosystem conditions the reference points are continually eroded (Pinnegar and Engelhard, 2008). Increasing urbanization of the basin’s population has inevitably meant most people have less direct contact with the natural ecosystems and hence less sensitivity to changing conditions.

  • Be actively adaptive: As the opportunities to run controlled experiments are very limited, society must be prepared to experiment and learn through evolving management actions, thereby discarding the traditional command and control approach (Walters and Holling, 1990).

  • Ecosystem-based management is forever: By trying to treat many ecosystem issues as externalities society often fails to recognize that continued sustainability of our life-supporting ecosystems will require eternal vigilance and interventions.

Conclusions and future prospects

We have progressively developed many of the scientific tools needed to manage large lake ecosystems but society as a whole still lacks the collective persistence and will to implement measures needed to secure the earth’s natural capital (the environment), to ensure equity and health for all people, and to ensure that our economic activities are sustainable. Based on the guiding principle at the core of the 1986 Canadian fish habitat management policy. “No net loss of the productice capacity of fish habitats,” it is possible to articulate a trio of guiding principles for freshwater, and other natural, ecosystems:

  1. No net loss of the natural productive capacity of ecosystems.

  2. No net loss of the biological diversity of ecosystems.

  3. No net loss of the potentially utilizable productivity of natural ecosystems.

The first two principles address the need to conserve and protect natural capital while the third addresses the need for inter-generational equity. The productive capacity is the full set of inherent structural and functional properties of ecosystems that collectively support the ability of biota to be productive. The naturally-evolved diversity of species, communities and ecosystems provides the basis for maximizing the productive potential of ecosystems. The potentially utilizable productivity must be able to meet the aggregate human use of ecosystem goods and services sustainably.

Many countries and peoples began to aspire to some form of these guiding principles in the 1960s and 1970s but these aspirations have not been realized as yet as the power and influence of rampant capitalism have come to dominate most public discourse since the 1990s. The recent failures at Copenhagen, December 2009 (UN Conference of the Parties (15th) on the Framework Convention on Climate Change) and Rio+20, June 2012 (UN Conference on Sustainable Development) have been disheartening with many countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, rolling back many of the environment protection rules established in the 1970s in order to facilitate unfettered development, especially of nonrenewable resources.

In 2012 the Canadian government passed leglislation that significantly reduced federal protection of fish and their habitat to facilitate its priority for economic development particularly with respect to non-renewable resource extraction (Favaro et al.,2012). The new Fisheries Act only covers existing fisheries, reducing the spatial and ecological scope of the protections, and significantly raised the threshold with respect to what consistitutes harm; the new regulations implementing the changes have yet to be released but the “no net loss” guiding principle, will no longer be followed. The changes to the Canadian Fisheries Act were part of a wider attack on environmental protections in Canada (Gibson, 2012).

As the full consequences of cumulative ecosystem negligence and destruction are realized in the coming decades, people will turn again toward implementation of the three “no net loss” principles as the only viable path to truly sustainable existence. Meanwhile, I will have to be comforted by the words of St. Francis of Assisi (Italian friar and preacher; 1181/2-1226), the patron saint of nature: “True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the organizing committee for the “State of Lake Vannern Ecosystem” symposium for the invitation to participate as a keynote. Special thanks to Dr. Gorän Dave for his tireless assistance for my wife and me during our visit to Sweden. Thanks to Mohi Munawar and his staff at AEHMS for his support and encouragement on this project.

References

Allaire, S. E., van Bochove, E., Denault, J.-T., Dadfar, H., Thériault, G., Charles, A. and De Jong, R.,
2011
.
Preferential pathways of phosphorus movement from agricultural land to water bodies in the Canadian Great Lakes basin: A predictive tool
.
Can. J. Soil Sci.
91
,
361
374
.
Ariely, D.,
2008
.
Predictably irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions
.
Harper-Collins
,
New York
.
Bernard, A.M., Ferguson, M. M., Noakes, D.L.G., Morrison, B.G., Wilson, C.C.,
2009
.
How different is different? Defining management and conservation units for a problematic exploited species
.
Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci.
66
(
9
),
1617
1630
.
Berquist, M.K., Campbell, L.M., Whitelaw, G.S., Millard, S.E.,
2012
.
Communicating research findings and monitoring data in support of management: A case study of the Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan
.
Aquat. Ecosyst. Health Mgmt.
15
(
4
),
473
483
.
Bocking, S.,
1997
.
Fishing in the inland seas: Great Lakes research, fisheries management, and environmental policy. Env
.
History
2
,
52
73
.
Christie, G.C., Goddard, C.I.,
2003
.
Sea Lamprey International Symposium (SLIS II): Advances in the integrated management of sea lamprey in the Great Lakes
.
Journal of Great Lakes Research
29
(
Supplement 1
),
1
14
.
Chu, C., Minns, C.K., Moore, J.E., and Millard, E.S.,
2004
.
Impact of oligotrophication, temperature, and water levels on walleye habitat in the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario
.
Trans. Amer. Fish. Soc.
133
,
868
879
.
Cox, S.P., Kitchell, J.F.,
2004
.
Lake Superior Ecosystem, 1929-1998: Simulating Alternative Hypotheses for Recruitment Failure of Lake Herring (Coregonus artedi)
.
Bulletin of Marine Science
,
74
(
3
),
671
683
.
Favaro, B., Reynolds, J.D., Côté, I.M.,
2012
.
Canada’s weakening aquatic protection
.
Science
337
,
154
.
Favé, M-J., Turgeon, J.,
2008
.
Patterns of genetic diversity in Great Lakes bloaters (Coregonus hoyi) with a view to reintroduction in Lake Ontario
.
Conservation Genetics
9
(
2
),
281
293
.
Fenichel, E.P., Tsao, J. I., Jones, M.L., Hickling, G.J.,
2008
.
Real options for precautionary fisheries management
.
Fish and Fisheries
9
,
1
17
.
Gandhi, N., Diamond, M. L., Razavi, R., Bhavsar, S.P., E.M., ,
2011
.
A modeling assessment of contaminant fate in the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario: Part 1
.
Metals. Aquat. Ecosyst Health Mgmt.
14
(
1
),
85
93
.
Gibson, R.B.,
2012
.
In full retreat: the Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress
.
Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal
30
(
3
),
179
188
.
Hayes, D., Jones, M.L., Lester, N., Chu, C., Doka, S.E., Netto, J., Stockwell, J., Thompson, B., Minns, C.K., Shuter, B.J., Collins, N.C.,
2009
.
Linking fish population dynamics to habitat conditions: insights from the application of a process-oriented approach to several Great Lakes species
.
Rev Fish Biol Fisheries
19
,
295
312
. (DOI ).
Huang, A., Rao, Y., Zhang, W.,
2012
:
On Recent Trends in Atmospheric and Limnological Variables in Lake Ontario
.
J. Climate
25
,
5807
5816
. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-11-00495.1
Jones, M.L., Irwin, B.J., Hansen, G. J. A., Dawson, H.A., Treble, A.J., Liu, W., Dai, W., Bence, J.R.,
2009
.
An operating model for the integrated pest management of the Great Lakes Sea Lampreys
.
The Open Fish Sci. J.
2
,
59
73
.
Jones, M.L., Koonce, J.F., O’Gorman, R.,
1993
.
Sustainability of hatchery dependent salmonine fisheries in Lake Ontario: the conflict between predator demand and prey supply. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society
.
122
,
1002
1018
.
Kahneman, D.,
2011
.
Thinking, fast and slow
.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
,
New York
.
Koops, M.A., Dermott, R. M., Leisti, K.E., Johannsson, O.E., Millard, E.S., Minns, C.K., Munawar, M., Nicholls, K.H., Hoyle, J.A.,
2009
.
The Bay of Quinte: a model for large lake ecosystem management
.
Verh. Int. Ver. Limnol.
30
:
7
:
1024
1029
.
(SIL Proceedings)
.
Landsman, S.J., Nguyen, V.M., Gutowsky, L.F.G., Gobin, J., Cook, K.V., Binder, T.R., Lower, N., McLaughlin, R.L., Cooke, S.J.,
2011
.
Fish movement and migration studies in the Laurentian Great Lakes: research trends and knowledge gaps
.
J. Great Lakes Res.
37
,
365
370
.
Lantry, B.F., O’Gorman, R., Strang, T.G., Lantry, J.R., Connerton, M.J., Schaner, T.,
2011
.
Evaluation of offshore stocking of Lake Trout in Lake Ontario
.
N. Amer. J. Fish. Manage.
31
,
671
682
.
Leisti, K.E., Doka, S.E., Minns, C.K.,
2012
.
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation in the Bay of Quinte: Response to decreased phosphorous loading and Zebra Mussel invasion
.
Aquat. Ecosyst. Health Mgmt
15
(
4
),
442
452
.
Leon, L.F., Lam, D., Schertzer, W., Swayne, D.,
2005
.
Lake and climate models linkage: a 3-D hydrodynamic contribution
.
Advances in Geosciences
4
,
57
62
.
Leonard, N.J., Taylor, W.M., Goddard, C.I., Frank, K.A., Krause, A.E., Schecter, M.G.,
2011
.
Information flow within the social network structure of a Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries
.
North Amer. J. Fish. Manage.
31
,
629
655
.
McLaughlin, C., Krantzberg, G.,
2012
.
An appraisal of management pathologies in the Great Lakes
.
Sci. Total Environ.
416
:
40
47
.
Meyers, P.A.,
2003
.
Applications of organic geochemistry to paleolimnological reconstructions: a summary of examples from the Laurentian Great Lakes
.
Organic Geochem.
34
,
261
289
.
Minns, C.K.,
1999
.
The ecosystem pyramid and the means for attaining ecological sustainability: an essay in honour of Jack Christie
.
Aquatic Ecosyst. Health Mgmt.
2
(
3
),
209
221
.
Minns, C.K., Moore, J.E.,
2004
.
Modelling phosphorus management in the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario in the past, 1972 to 2001, and in the future
.
Can. Manuscr. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci.
2695
.
Minns, ,WichertC.K., G.A.
2005
.
A framework for defining fish habitat domains in Lake Ontario and its drainage
.
J. Great Lakes Res.
31
(
Suppl.1
),
6
27
.
Minns, C.K., Munawar, M., Koops, M.A., Millard, E.S.,
2011
.
Long-term Ecosystem Studies in the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario 1972-2008: A Prospectus
.
Aquat. Ecosyst. Health Mgmt.
14
(
1
),
3
8
.
Minns, C.K., Randall, R.G., Moore, J.E., Cairns, V.W.,
1996
.
A model simulating the impact of habitat supply limits on northern pike, Esox lucius, in Hamilton Harbour, Lake Ontario
.
Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci.
53
(
Suppl 1
),
20
34
Morrison, H.A., Minns, C.K., Koonce, J.F.,
2001
.
A methodology for identifying and classifying aquatic biodiversity investment areas: Application in the Great Lakes basin. Aquat. Ecosyst
.
Health and Mgmt.
4
(
1
),
1
12
.
Morrison, H.A., Whittle, D. M., Haffner, D.,
2002
.
A comparison of the transport and fate of polychlorinated biphenyl congeners in three Great Lakes food webs
.
Environ. Toxicol. Chem.
21
,
683
692
.
Munawar, M., Fitzpatrick, ,NiblockM., H., Lorimer, J.,
2011
.
The relative importance of autotrophic and heterotrophic microbial communities in the planktonic food web of the Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario 2000–2007
.
Aquat. Ecosyst. Health Mgmt.
14
(
1P
),
21
32
.
Pinnegar, J.K. and Engelhard, G.H.,
2008
.
The ‘shifting baseline’ phenomenon: a global perspective
.
Rev. Fish. Biol. Fisheries
18
,
1
16
.
Rees, W.,
1995
.
Cumulative environmental assessment and global change
.
Environ. Impact Assess. Rev.
15
,
295
309
.
Rothlisberger, J.D., Finnoff, D.C., Cooke, R.M., Lodge, D.M.,
2012
.
Ship-borne nonindigenous species diminish Great Lakes ecosystem services
.
Ecosystems
15
,
462
476
.
Rothlisberger, J.D., Lodge, D.M., Cooke, R.M., Finnoff, D.C.,
2010
.
Future declines of the binational Great Lakes fisheries: the importance of environmental and cultural change
.
Front. Ecol. Environ.
8
,
239
244
.
Rudstam, L. G., Parker-Stetter, S. L., Sullivan, P. J., and Warner, D. M.,
2009
.
Towards a standard operating procedure for fishery acoustic surveys in the Laurentian Great Lakes, North America. – ICES
Journal of Marine Science
,
66
:
1391
1397
.
Schwab, D.J., Beletsky, D., DePinto, J., Dolan, D.M.,
2009
.
A hydrodynamic approach to modelling phosphorus distribution in Lake Erie
.
J. Great Lakes Res.
35
,
50
60
.
Stepien, C.A., Murphy, D.J., Louthier, R.N., Sepulveda-Villet,, O.J., Haponski, A.E.,
2009
.
Signatures of vicariance, postglacial dispersal and spawning phiopatry: population genetics of the walleye, Sander vitreus
.
Molecular Ecol.
18
,
3411
3428
.
Stewart, T.J., Sprules, W.G.,
2011
.
Carbon-based balanced trophic structure and flows in the offshore Lake Ontario food web before (1987–1991) and after (2001–2005) invasion-induced ecosystem change
.
Ecol. Modelling
222
(
3
),
692
708
.
Stride, F., German, M., Hurley, D.A., Millard, E.S., Minns, C.K., Nicholls, K.H., Owen, G.E., Poulton, D.A., and de Geus, N.,
1992
.
An overview of the modelling and public consultation processes used to develop the bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan
. In: J.H. Hartig , J.H., and M.A. Zarull(Eds.),
Under RAPs: toward grassroots ecological democracy in the Great Lakes Basin
, pp.
161
183
.
University of Michigan Press
, Ann Arbor,
Michigan
.
Trumpickas, J., Shuter, B.J., Minns, C.K.,
2009
.
Forecasting impacts of climate change on Great Lakes surface water temperatures
.
J. Great Lakes Res.
35
(
3
),
454
463
.
U.S. State Dept.
,
1972
.
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Annexes and Texts and Terms of Reference, Between the United States of America and Canada, signed at Ottawa, 1972 April 15
.
Washington, D.C
.
Vander Zanden, M.J., Casselman, J.M., Rasmussen, J.B.,
1999
.
Stable isotope evidence for the food web consequences of species invasions in lakes
.
Nature
410
,
464
467
.
Walters, C.J. and Holling, C.S.,
1990
.
Large scale management experiments and learning by doing
.
Ecology
71
,
2060
2068
.
Wang, J., Bai, X., Hu, H., Clites, A., Colton, M., Lofgren, B.,
2012
.
Temporal and spatial variability of Great Lakes ice cover, 1973–2010
.
J. Climate
25
,
1318
1329
.