The lake creates a favorable environment for agricultural pursuits in the bordering areas of Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. In addition, its waters are home to numerous fish species, making it a popular site for commercial fishing. However, since high levels of pollution were discovered in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been continued debate over the extent of commercial fishing and measures used to protect the lake.
Lake Erie (42°30'N, 81°00'W) is the world's 11th largest lake and has an elevation of 571 feet (174 m) above sea level. It has a surface area of 9,940 square miles (25,745 km²) with a length of 241 miles (388 km) and breadth of 57 miles (92 km) at its widest points. left|thumb|300px|Frozen Lake Erie from [Cleveland]The average depth is 62 feet (19 m) with a maximum depth of 210 feet (64 m). The western section, comprising one-fourth of the area, is shallower with an average depth of 42 feet (13 m) and a maximum depth of 62 feet
For comparison, Lake Superior has an average depth of 483 feet (147 m), a volume of 2,900 cubic miles (12,100 km³) and shoreline of 2,726 miles
In 1669, the Frenchman Louis Jolliet discovered Lake Erie which led to French settlements being established a few years later.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and infamously became very polluted in the 1960s and 1970s. Urban legend has described it as a dead lake, but both sport and commercial fishing have continued without interruption to the present day. Pollution in the lake did not get much attention until the great Cuyahoga River Fire in June of 1969. Pollution from Cleveland and other Ohio cities had so contaminated this tributary of Lake Erie with petrochemicals that it actually caught on fire. The fire embarrassed state officials and prompted the U. S. Congress to pass the Clean Water Act.
The lake is also responsible for microclimates that are important to agriculture. Along its north shore is one of the richest areas of Canada's fruit and vegetable production, and along the southeastern shore in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York is an important grape growing region, as are the islands in the lake.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Lake Erie experienced changes in water quality associated with increasing levels of the nutrient phosphorus in the water and bottom sediments. The result was eutrophication of the system which resulted in major changes in productivity and algal blooms. The decomposition of algae led to extensive seasonal anoxic areas in the lake (the so-called dead zone), that were expanding rapidly in the early 1970s. The decomposing algal masses and associated fish kills fouled shorelines, contributing to the widespread impression of Lake Erie as a dead lake.
However, the lake ecosystem is much changed from its original state, with a long list of invasive species well established. Common fish species such as rainbow smelt, alewife, white perch and common carp have all been introduced from outside the Great Lakes. Non-native sportfish such as rainbow trout and brown trout continue to be stocked for anglers to catch. Attempts were made to stock the lake with Coho Salmon were made, but met with failure, and that species is now nearly once again absent from the lake. Recent invaders, zebra and quaggamussels have populated the entire Lake Erie ecosystem, altering energy flow through the food web away from the pelagic zone and into the benthic zone.
Other invasive species, such as the goby (recently arrived) and the grass carp (on the doorstep), have increased public debate about the risks of non-native invaders to Great Lakes ecosystems.
Lake Erie is home to one of the world's largest freshwater commercial fisheries. Once a mainstay of communities around the lake, commercial fishing is now predominantly based in Canadian communities, with a much smaller fishery, largely restricted to yellow perch, in Ohio. The Ontario fishery is one of the most intensively managed in the world. It was one of the first fisheries in the world managed on individual transferable quotas (ITQs) and features mandatory daily catch reporting and intensive auditing of the catch reporting system. Still, the commercial fishery is the target of critics who would like to see the lake managed for the exclusive benefit of sport fishing and the various industries serving the sport fishery.
Commercial landings are dominated by yellow perch and walleye, with substantial quantities of rainbow smelt and white bass also taken. Anglers target walleye and yellow perch, with some effort directed on rainbow trout. A variety of other species are taken in smaller quantities by both commercial and sport fleets.
Although management of the fishery is by consensus of all management agencies with an interest in the resource (the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan and the province of Ontario) under the mandate of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and driven by comprehensive fisheries assessment programs and sophisticated mathematical modeling systems, it remains the source of considerable recrimination, primarily from United States based angler and charter fishing groups with an historical antipathy to the commercial fishery. This conflict is complex, dating from the 1960s and changes in U.S. fisheries management that led to elimination of commercial fishing in most U.S. Great Lakes states. The process began in the state of Michigan, and its evolution is well documented in Szylvian (2004)http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/eh/9.1/szylvian.html Szylvian,K.M. 2004.Transforming Lake Michigan into the 'World's Greatest Fishing Hole': The Environmental Politics of Michigan's Great Lakes Sport Fishing, 1965–1985. , using Lake Michigan as a case study. The underlying issues are universal, wherever sport and commercial fishing coexist, but their persistence in the Lake Erie context, one of the most intensively scrutinized and managed fisheries anywhere, suggests that these conflicts are cultural, not scientific, and therefore not resolvable by reference to ecological data. These debates are largely driven by social, political and economic issues, not ecologyBerkes, F. 1984. Competition between commercial and sport fishermen: an ecological analysis. Human Ecology 12: 413-429..
Lake Erie's shallowness makes it particularly prone to seiches, especially during storms, when the lake water tends to pile up at one end of the lake. This can lead to huge storm surges, potentially causing damage onshore. During one storm in November 2003, the water level at Buffalo rose by 7 feet (2.1 m) with waves of 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) on top of that, for a cumulative rise of as much as 22 feet (6.7 m). Meanwhile, Toledo at the western end of the lake will measure similar drops in water level. After the storm event, the water will slowly slosh back and forth, similar to the effect in a bath tub, until equilibrium is re-established.
Image:pbalson_20060527_IMG_3822.JPG|Sunset over Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio Image:pbalson_20060527_IMG_3835.JPG|Sunset over Lake Erie near Cleveland, Ohio Image:Lake Erie sunglint.JPG|Lake Erie from space, looking from the west