Great Lakes Fisheries

Efforts are underway to reintroduce the Atlantic salmon to Lake Ontario.

Efforts are underway to reintroduce the Atlantic salmon to Lake Ontario.

The walleye is a highly sought after recreational fish species.

The walleye is a highly sought after recreational fish species.

The yellow perch is one of the Great Lakes' many fish species.

The yellow perch is one of the Great Lakes' many fish species.


The Great Lakes are home to more than 150 species of fish.  The Lakes provide wholesome fish to eat and hours of fishing for all to enjoy.


The Ministry of Natural Resources is responsible for managing the fisheries of the Great Lakes.


Because Ontario shares the Great Lakes and its fisheries resources with the United States, managing these resources is an international affair. The Ministry works with numerous governments and agencies to protect, restore and sustain Great Lakes fish species and populations through planning, regulation, scientific study, stocking, and stewardship.


Get more information on agreements and government bodies that help in this important work.


There are several types of fisheries on the Great Lakes:

  • Aboriginal Fishing – Many Aboriginal communities harvest fish from the Great Lakes.
  • Commercial Fisheries – Commercial fishing is part of Ontario's Great Lakes heritage and culture, and still goes on in several communities on the Great Lakes.
  • Recreational Fisheries – The Great Lakes rank among the best areas in the world for freshwater fishing.
  • Aquaculture – There are a number of fish-farming or aquaculture operations on Ontario's Great Lakes.



 Aboriginal Fishing

There are more than 60 Aboriginal communities situated around the Great Lakes Basin. Many of these communities are involved in fishing for food and several participate in Ontario's commercial fishery.



Commercial Fisheries


A Lake Huron commercial fisherman.
A Lake Huron commercial fisherman.

Commercial fishing is part of Ontario's Great Lakes heritage and culture, and contributes millions of dollars to the province’s economy every year. Many towns, such as Port Dover and Port Stanley on the Canadian shores of Lake Erie, were founded because of commercial fishing activities. Today, the towns of Kingsville and Wheatley Harbour are home to some of the largest commercial freshwater fish processing centres in Canada.


The Ministry sets annual quotas (allowable levels of harvest) and issues licences yearly for the commercial harvest of Great Lakes fish.


Fish caught in Ontario's Great Lakes is sold at home and in international markets. All fish caught in Canada for the international market are inspected according to rules set by the Government of Canada. Fish caught for consumption in Ontario is inspected by the ministries of Natural Resources and Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs. Great Lakes fish are a high-quality, valuable food source.


In 2011, Ontario's commercial licence holders caught nearly 12,000 metric tonnes (about 26 million pounds) of fish. The dockside value of their catch will vary from year to year, however in 2011 that figure was more than $33 million. (Dockside value refers to the price paid for the fish as it comes off the boat and before it is processed for people to eat.)

With processing and sales to food stores and restaurants in Ontario, the U.S. and around the world, the industry’s contribution to Ontario's economy was about $234 million (Canadian) dollars in 2011. There are more than 500 active commercial fishing licences in Ontario.


Here are some highlights of Ontario's Great Lakes commercial fishery:

  • In any given year, Lake Erie’s commercial fishery, primarily made up of yellow perch and walleye, accounts for about 80 per cent of the total value of Ontario’s Great Lakes commercial fishery.
  • Lake Huron produces the largest volume of lake whitefish in the Great Lakes. It is sold primarily in U.S. and Ontario markets. Lake trout, walleye and yellow perch contribute to the commercial fishery as well.
  • The principal commercial fish on Lake Superior is the lake whitefish. Thunder and Black Bays on Lake Superior also account for 90 per cent of the lake herring commercially harvested in the Canadian waters of the lake. Lake herring are primarily harvested for their roe, which is shipped mainly to the U.S. and Europe.
  • Lake Ontario supports a locally important commercial fish industry. The commercial harvest comes primarily from the Canadian waters of Lake Ontario east of Brighton, including the Bay of Quinte and the St. Lawrence River. A variety of species are fished, including yellow perch and sunfish.


Recreational Fisheries

Close up of a tackle box filled with a colourful assortment of fishing lures.
The Great Lakes are popular among recreational anglers.

Over one million people annually participate in recreational fishing in Ontario. More than 30 per cent of those people fish the Great Lakes and its tributaries. Great Lakes recreational anglers spend over $600 million dollars yearly on items such as equipment, transportation, food and lodging.


The Ministry sets regulations to manage and sustain a thriving recreational fishery on the Great Lakes. 



  • Lake Superior yields trophy-size brook trout.
  • Georgian Bay on Lake Huron and Long Point Bay on Lake Erie offer superb bass fishing.
  • Lake Erie and the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario produce some of the biggest walleye in the Great Lakes.
  • Lakes Huron and Ontario offer the most spectacular trophy salmon and trout fishing in the province.


Each Great Lake has its own fisheries management zone, a geographic area for setting fishing regulations such as catch limits and seasons.



With a few exceptions, fish caught in the Great Lakes are safe to eat. Check out the Guide to Eating Ontario's Sport Fish and Health Canada's guidelines for fish consumption Icon - link to external website for more information.


Need more information on recreational fishing in Ontario? Check out Fish ON-Line.




The Ministry is responsible for legislation and regulations for Ontario’s aquaculture or fish farming operations. Ontario’s commercial aquaculture industry (Great Lakes and land-based) contributes about $55 to $60 million to the province’s economy and produces over 3,900 metric tonnes (or nearly 9 million pounds) of fish annually.


Commercial cage aquaculture in Ontario mostly occurs in the North Channel of Lake Huron (Manitoulin Island) and Georgian Bay. The only fish species farmed at Great Lakes sites is rainbow trout. About 3,700 metric tonnes (or about 8.2 million pounds) of rainbow trout are produced every year, contributing about $50.7 million to Ontario's yearly economy.



Fish Stocking

Close up of orange-coloured salmon eggs with their black “eyes,” and young salmon hatchlings.
Fish are often stocked to help
rehabilitate native fish populations.

One fisheries management tool is fish stocking. Ontario stocks more than four million fish into the Great Lakes each year.


Non-native fish species such as Chinook salmon are stocked to support recreational fishing. Native fish species such as lake trout and walleye are stocked in the Great Lakes to help increase natural populations of fish that were once plentiful.


Wild Atlantic salmon once flourished in Lake Ontario, but this species was lost in the late 1800s. Now, efforts are being made to restore it.  Stocking is one of several tools used to try to reintroduce this native species.





Atlantic Salmon: Russ Bobrowski, Trent University

Walleye: Upper Great Lakes Management Unit, MNR

Yellow Perch: Stock Photo

Commercial fishing on Lake Huron: Jason Mortlock

Fishing tackle box: Heather Bickle, MNR

Salmon eggs: Ringwood Fish Culture Station, MNR