Lake Erie walleye numbers continue to climb

By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show

This past summer, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife trawl surveys found that there was yet another walleye hatch that is well above average, as fisheries biologists reported the 2021 walleye hatch was the fifth largest recorded over the past 35 years.

The 2021 walleye hatch index was 90 fish per hectare (a standard measure of area), well above the rapidly increasing prior 20-year average of 34 fish per hectare. The young walleye averaged just over 4 inches long and were caught at every site sampled.

“Our fisheries biologists survey nearly 40 locations between Toledo and Huron by dragging a large, concave net along the bottom of the lake,” said Travis Hartman, Division of Wildlife Lake Erie Fisheries Program Manager. “Smaller first- and second- year fish tend to feed near the lake’s floor and are captured in the net, while larger fully-grown fish dodge the net and are not routinely caught.”

Lake Erie is managed cooperatively by the five states and provinces that border it: New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada. Each August, Ohio’s fisheries biologists contribute to lake-wide efforts to survey hatch success in Lake Erie’s western basin. Ohio’s results are combined with surveys from the other bordering states to estimate the total walleye population in the lake. This estimate is then used to establish fishing regulations and daily limits.

Combined survey results over the last several years show that the Lake Erie walleye population is on the rise. Angler catch rates are near one fish per hour, proving now is a great time to get out and pursue this fan favorite fish.

Additionally, trophy-sized walleye are increasing. A Lake Erie walleye 28 inches or longer qualifies for recognition from the Fish Ohio program. Records show that Lake Erie walleye entries have increased every year since 2017, culminating in 1,901 submissions in 2020. So far in 2021, more than 1,100 walleye entries have been submitted. More information can be found on the Fishing Lake Erie page at wildohio.gov.

Yellow perch survey results for both the western and central basins will be announced later this fall by the Division of Wildlife after completion of Ohio’s central basin trawl survey this month.

AWOL balloons prove deadly 

Speaking of Lake Erie, apparently Ohio’s Great Lake hosts more than its share of celebratory balloons. Leanne Grieves, a McMaster University postdoctoral fellow, and fellow biologist Ryan Leys collected 380 balloons from a seven-kilometer stretch of beach near the tip of Lake Erie’s Long Point between June 5 and 17. Leys continued the work and collected another 163. The balloons in question were the shiny Mylar helium-filled kind, usually used to celebrate life events. 

The problem is, balloons can clog the digestive tract of animals, including fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals that mistake balloons or fragments of balloons for food, leading to starvation. Wildlife can also become entangled in the ribbons and string that balloons are frequently released with.

Grieves estimated that as many as 960,000 balloons could wash up on the shores of Lake Erie every year. They are slow to degrade and ones with metallic coatings could cause a short circuit or fire when contacting power lines. The lesson being, the next time you consider celebrating with a balloon release, you may want to consider their consequences for fish and wildlife.

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