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The Great Lakes fishery lost an estimated $50 million from the pandemic.
CREDIT T. LAWRENCE, GREAT LAKES FISHERY COMMISSION

The nationwide shutdown was especially ill-timed for fishers in the Great Lakes.

Many deal in lake whitefish, a species that dwells in cold waters. The first window to catch these fish falls after the ice melts, before the water warms up — just when the pandemic began to overwhelm the nation.

A man in coveralls bends over a hole in ice and pulls out a net.
Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

A decline in lake whitefish is pushing some tribal commercial fishermen out of Lakes Michigan and Huron. They’re spending more time in Lake Superior, the only place they say they can still make a living. This has fishermen and scientists worried about whether whitefish populations there can withstand the extra pressure.

A whitefish survey
Morgan Springer

Lake whitefish are the most important commercial fish species in Michigan.

But in the last decade, state biologists say fishers are harvesting about a third of what they used to get. The catch dropped to 1.7 million pounds last year, down from five million pounds in the early 2000s.

Agencies across the Great Lakes are trying to learn more about the population decline.  

A fight is brewing over Great Lakes fish

May 4, 2017
Peter Payette / Interlochen Public Radio

The rules for commercial fishing in Michigan are being rewritten in Lansing. The law is old and needs to be updated. There are only 21 non-tribal businesses licensed by the state to catch fish for market. Tribes fish under their own rules.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

It’s the busy time of year for commercial fishing on the Great Lakes. But the price of whitefish is about half what it was three years ago, because of problems with international trade.