Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project

Recreational fishing

Charter fishing boat
Charter fishing boat (Michigan Sea Grant)

Between the U.S. and Canada, an estimated 1.8 million anglers report fishing on the Great Lakes.1,2 Because fishing by individuals is difficult to quantify, we used charter fishing as a measure of recreational fishing effort. In Michigan alone, charter fishing contributed nearly $15 million in gross sales to coastal communities.3

Charter fishing in the Great Lakes

  • The growth of the Great Lakes charter fishing industry occurred in response to successful stocking of non-native Pacific salmon species in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time period, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, rainbow trout, and brown trout were stocked in all five Great Lakes to control invasive alewives and to improve sport fishing opportunities.
  • Participation in both recreational fishing and charter fishing in U.S. waters of the Great Lakes peaked in the 1980s when there were over 3.7 million total anglers and 3,000 charter fishing operations in business. The number of anglers fell to 2.5 million by 1991, 1.8 million by 2001, and 1.4 million by 2006. The number of charter fishing businesses dropped to 2,205 in 1994 and 1,932 in 2002.  Declines in the sport and charter fishing participation are tied to:
  • Despite decreases in the number of charter fishing operations, revenue has remained stable, and charter fishing continues to be an important contributor to tourism in coastal communities. Throughout the Great Lakes region, approximately 80 percent of charter customers come from a distance greater than 50 miles to participate in the fishing activity. 
  • Charter operators believe effective stocking programs allowing for diverse fishing opportunities will positively impact their businesses. In addition, targeting non-traditional anglers (e.g., minorities, females, families) and non-angler groups (e.g., birdwatchers, scuba-divers) may provide additional stability.
  • In a 2002 survey of Great Lakes charter operators, respondents cited their top concerns as the economy (45%), reduced abundance of fish (38%), invasive species impacts (31%), operating costs (24%), and fish consumption advisories (20%).4


Mapping recreational fishing in the Great Lakes

A list of Great Lakes charter fishing operations was compiled from state and provincial regulatory agencies and supplemented through internet searches. Latitude/longitude coordinates were obtained from marina locations, charter fishing websites, and Google Earth. In all, we identified 1,834 charter fishing businesses operating on the Great Lakes. The map below shows the locations of charter fishing operation home ports, where the colors represent the number of businesses operating from each port. 

Charter fishing businesses are abundant in Western Lake Erie, where walleye is the primary fish target. Lake Michigan is also a popular charter fishing destination, where targeted fish species are primarily Pacific salmon.


Data Sources: 

1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service & U.S. Census Bureau. 2006. National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation. Washington, D.C., USA.
2. Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2008. Survey of Recreational Fishing in Canada: Selected Results for the Great Lakes Fishery 2005. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
3. O'Keefe, D.M. and S.R. Miller. 2011. Michigan 2009 Charter Fishing Study. Michigan Sea Grant.
4. Kuehn, D., F. Lichtkoppler, and C. Pistis. 2005. The Great Lakes charter fishing industry. Fisheries, 30(3):10-17.