Fisheries productivity in the Laurentian Great Lakes has changed dramatically over the past century. Invasions of non-native species and anthropogenically induced environmental changes in habitat quality and quantity have significantly altered the species composition and abundance of Great Lakes fishes, thereby affecting the social and economic well-being of coastal communities that rely on the good and services that these fishes provide. Our increased ability to locate, access, catch, preserve, and transport fish while modifying their habitats has resulted in the loss of native fish populations, which has profoundly impacted the ecological functioning and thus the productivity, structure, and services of Great Lakes ecosystems. Further, our lack of predictable scientific knowledge and control over factors affecting the productivity of the various Great Lakes fisheries, coupled with the failure of fisheries governance systems to manage these resources sustainably, have often left Great Lakes commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries and their local fishing communities impoverished and in disarray. In this paper, we discuss the environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic changes that have characterized the Great Lakes basin in the last century. We also share our perspectives and personal stories about the impacts of these changes on ecosystems, fisheries, and the local and regional communities and economies that depend on them for their health and well-being. A key lesson learned was, that if we are to ensure the integrity and productivity of Great Lakes fisheries in the future, we must become better stewards, possessing a more predictable scientific and ecosystem-based understanding of fishes and their habitats while communicating the value of fisheries in food, recreational opportunities, and the economic and social wealth of local communities. The fate of Great Lakes fisheries and the quality of life of the people who use these resources are inextricably linked and can only be sustained in productive, well-governed, and well-balanced fisheries managed holistically at the ecosystem level.
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