Great Lakes fish and fisheries suffer stress of warming climate

The story of the Bay Port Fish Company is only one in the millions of lives, built on the shores of the Great Lakes — the largest freshwater lake system in the world.

After the Williams family purchased the Bay Port Fish Company in 1978, they would take their boats out to Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron to catch carp, catfish and yellow perch. Decades later, they still hold a license for 44 nets to catch yellow perch but have not used it for at least two years.

“There just isn’t much yellow perch left on our side of the bay,” said Lakon Williams, who took over the management of the family business 10 years ago. “Why would I want to hurt the population more and set 44 nets out there?”

Over the years, the Williams family, one of the few remaining commercial fishers in Michigan, invested in new equipment for harvesting whitefish, a higher value catch whose stocks were rebounding after a sharp drop in the mid-1900s. Since the turn of the century, however, whitefish harvests have dwindled. For the business to survive, Lakon added processing and resale to their fishing operations, purchasing the catch from other fisheries and shifting most of their business into retail and distribution.

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