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Fisheries, invasive species, and the formation and fracturing of the Great Lakes system

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Invasive and introduced fish species highlight tensions between systemic and jurisdictional visions of the Great Lakes during the 20th century. Different jurisdictions shared the Great Lakes and acknowledged its status as a single biological and hydrological system, yet often took divergent approaches to managing their fisheries. Alewife and splake demonstrate how Ontario and Michigan differed in their respective approaches to fisheries management on Lake Huron. The Great Lakes fisheries present a history of tension between the hydrological and biological unity of the lakes and the jurisdictional divisions that have defined their management. In the 1950s these divisions were apparently overcome by the need to respond to a crisis: the entry of the parasitic sea lamprey into the upper lakes, where they decimated lake trout populations. In response, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission was formed to coordinate cooperation in controlling the sea lamprey. However, the subsequent history of Great Lakes fisheries management demonstrates how this tension persisted. In particular, the linked histories of the Pacific salmon, introduced as the basis for a new sport fishery, and of the alewife, which found its own way into the upper lakes and, while initially perceived as a “nuisance,” eventually became a valued species, illustrate how species from elsewhere have contributed to both the forming and the fracturing of systemic approaches to the Great Lakes. L'histoire des pêcheries dans les Grands Lacs est marquée de tensions entre l'unité hydrologique et biologique des lacs d'une part, et des frontières juridiques qui forment la base de leur mode de gestion, d'autre part. Dans les années 1950, l'arrivée de la lamproie marine dans les lacs en amont, un parasite qui a décimé les populations de truites lacustres, a provoqué une situation de crise à laquelle on devait répondre rapidement et qui semblait avoir permis de dépasser ces divisions. C'est dans ce contexte qu'on a mis sur pied la Commission des pêcheries des Grands Lacs afin de coordonner la coopération en matière de lutte contre la lamproie marine. Cependant, comme l'histoire de la gestion des pêcheries des Grands Lacs en témoigne, on n'a jamais pu maîtriser les tensions. Rappelons les histoires parallèles du saumon du Pacifique qui est introduit avec l'objectif de soutenir une nouvelle pêche sportive, et du gaspareau qui, ayant réussi à remonter le courant pour se retrouver dans les lacs en amont, avait d'abord été perçu comme une « nuisance », mais compte finalement parmi les espèces prisées. Cela montre à quel point les espèces venues d'ailleurs ont contribué tant à la formation qu'à la fracturation des approches de gestion systémique des Grands Lacs.
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Keywords: Grands Lacs; Great Lakes; alewife; fisheries management; gaspareau; gestion des pêcheries; lamprey; lamproie marine; splake; truite moulac

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2016

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