Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project

Recreational fishing

Charter fishing boat in Lake Michigan
Charter fishing boat in Lake Michigan (Image: Great Lakes Fishing Charters)

Recreational fishing is a common activity in the Great Lakes today. It exceeds commercial fishing in economic value and has the potential to influence fish stocks. Because it is difficult to quantify the spatial extent of recreational fishing by individuals, we focus solely on charter boat recreational fishing. We assume that this approximates the intensity and spatial distribution of all forms of recreational fishing1 but we also acknowledge that private boats may travel lesser distances from shore.


Mapping recreational fishing as a Great Lakes stressor

  • We compiled a list of all charter fishing boats operating on the Great Lakes from state and provincial regulatory agencies such as Departments of Natural Resources and by searching the Internet.
  • Latitude/longitude coordinates were obtained from marina locations or from websites and Google Earth.
  • We identified 1,813 charter fishing services operating on the Great Lakes


Charter fishing operations and target species by lake
Lake Number of Charter Operations Primary Target Species
Superior 80 Salmon, steelhead, lake trout
Huron 78 Walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass
Michigan 698 Salmon, steelhead, lake trout
Erie 814 Walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass
Ontario 143 Salmon, steelhead, lake trout


Charter fishing businesses operate out of the marinas shown below, which are color-coded to represent the number of active charter fishing businesses leaving from each marina.


  • The spatial extent of charter fishing was estimated using the number of boats at each location as the magnitude of effect, and propagated into each lake assuming that only 10% of boats fish beyond 27.5 km from port and that the number was negligible beyond 55 km.
  • Direct queries to a number of charter fishing operators in each lake indicate that travel distances < 20 km are typical, although boats occasionally travel greater distances.


Spatial distribution of recreational fishing as a stressor in the Laurentian Great Lakes (Inset: Western Lake Erie)