In recent years, farmers have been planting more corn to take advantage of high prices driven by the production of ethanol. They are loading fields with phosphate-rich fertilizer to enhance yields. As a result, silt, sediment and fertilizer are finding their way into the Lake Erie watershed. The problem is compounded by the U.S. Corps of Engineers dumping massive amounts of nutrient-rich sediment dredged from the Maumee River into Lake Erie.The most immediate effect is on fishing. The algae sucks vital oxygen from the lake at lower depth and that drives the fish, notably perch and walleye closer to the surface.
Anglers are finding large numbers of walleye in surprisingly shallow water from Huron to Vermilion where oxygen levels are normal, but not in deeper waters a few miles offshore, where catches had been very good a month ago. In some areas, anglers are finding yellow perch suspending well off the bottom, despite most of their preferred forage is found close to the lake bottom.I saw a swarm of anglers this past Saturday just to the northwest of Kelly's Island and wonder whether they were catching perch and walleye closer to the surface than normal. As Egan points out, "Unfortunately for Lake Erie anglers who favor perch, walleye and smallmouth bass, the species of fish that do well in eutrophic waters are sheepshead, channel catfish, white bass and white perch."