Lake Erie

Lake Erie is the 12th largest freshwater lake in the world. The shallowest of the Great Lakes, it has an average depth of 62 feet and the greatest depth is 210 feet. The lake is 241 miles long, and 57 miles across at its widest point.

Lake Erie is warmer than the other Great Lakes, which also helps make it the most productive. However, it is also more sensitive. What we do in the surrounding watersheds has a high impact on Lake Erie, which is subject to sedimentation, urbanization and agricultural runoff — more so than any of the other Great Lakes.



  • Lake Erie is great for recreational anglers because it is easily accessed by boat, shore or pier. It’s also a hotspot for ice fishing, bringing economic boon to the region during winter.
  • The 2006 (most recent available) U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey shows that recreational fishing throughout the Great Lakes is most popular on Lake Erie. As reported, 37 percent of all Great Lakes anglers focused their efforts on Lake Erie. Lake Michigan ranked second in popularity, hosting 30 percent of Great Lakes anglers.
  • Both U.S. and Canadian surveys suggest the average Great Lakes angler spends approximately $1,000 each year on trip and equipment expenditures for Great Lakes fishing. A large proportion of this figure can be attributed to the costs associated with owning and maintaining a boat.
  • Anglers also spend considerable amounts on transportation, food and lodging — spending an average of $430 each year on transportation and accommodations for Great Lakes fishing trips.
  • The costs mentioned above are necessary to get the anglers on the water, yet are not directly related to catching fish. On average, Great Lakes anglers spend an additional $100 or more on fishing equipment — rods, reels, tackle, etc. — each year.


Commercial fishing, when managed properly, can provide an important and sustainable Great Lakes food source — and can help support a lake-based economy.

  • Although Lake Erie is smallest of the Great Lakes, it boasts the greatest commercial harvest. Annually there are more fish harvested from Lake Erie than all of the other Great Lakes combined. Harvests from Lake Erie make up 61 percent of the total Great Lakes commercial fishery.
  • With the majority of the catch coming from Canadian waters, Lake Erie commercial fishermen harvested close to 30.2 million pounds of fish in 2008. Yellow perch and walleye are the most lucrative species, as Canadian commercial operators received $6.1 million for their catch of yellow perch (4.8 million pounds) and $7.8 million for their catch of walleye (4.8 million pounds).
  • American commercial operators are not allowed to harvest walleye in U.S. waters of Lake Erie because of their significance to sport fishing. There is, however, a substantial trap net fishery for yellow perch, which has seen an increase in perch landings during recent years. Over 1.5 million pounds of yellow perch caught in U.S. waters of Lake Erie brought a dockside return of nearly $2.6 million. Other species of importance to U.S. commercial operators include white bass, white perch, bigmouth buffalo, channel catfish and carp.


Throughout the Great Lakes, charter fishing has been a major economic contributor. According to the 2009 Michigan Charter Fishing Report put out by Michigan Sea Grant/the MSU Center for Economic Analysis, the impact of charter fishing to tourism in Michigan’s coastal communities is significant, with over 9 million employment hours and over $395 million in gross sales generated over the past 20 years.

  • Charter fishing also attracts out-of-state visitors, who took 79,640 trips from 1990-2009 and added $147.6 million in sales and $56.7 million in labor income to Michigan’s economy.
  • From 1990 to 2009, more than 37,000 charter trips were reported to have left from Lake Erie ports, contributing an economic impact of more than $47.5 million to coastal communities.
  • Report (PDF) available.

Tourism and Recreation

Lake Erie is also known for its birding, boating, water trails and access to history.


According to Ohio Sea Grant, Lake Erie and its associated habitats are among the most bird-rich ecosystems in the United States. Large numbers of migrating birds pass through, and the species that use Lake Erie radiate out to every country in Central and South America and the Caribbean. That bird-rich environment is a large draw for birders not just in the region, but also throughout the country.

Learn more about the bird species of the Great Lakes.

Recreational Boating

Great Lakes boat owners spend an average of $3,600 per year on their boats, according to the Great Lakes Commission Recreational Boating report. This includes $1,400 on craft-related expenses (e.g., equipment, repairs, insurance, slip fees) and $2,200 on trip-related expenses (e.g., gas and oil, food and refreshments, onshore entertainment, lodging) spread out over an average of 23 boating days per season. These averages are heavily weighted toward the high percentage of mostly smaller watercraft. Owners of larger boats spend considerably more, up to $20,000 per year for boats 41 feet and more.

Report (PDF) available.

Water Trails

Water trails, routes on navigable waterways such as rivers and lakes are designed to foster an interactive, positive experience, create vibrant waterfronts and contribute to community development. Michigan Sea Grant Extension and the Lake St. Clair Tourism Development Program partnered on the Lake St. Clair water trail — a project with complementary goals aimed at highlighting the sustainable use of Michigan’s water resources that also benefit Michigan’s economy, environment and quality of life.

The Lake St. Clair Coastal Water Trail links the St. Clair River Blueway on the St. Clair River with the Detroit Heritage River Water Trail on the Detroit River and western Lake Erie. This new water trail completes a system of water trails that extend from Lake Erie north along the Detroit River through Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River up to Lake Huron. The Lake St. Clair trail moves the state closer to having a statewide water trail system that has enormous potential for advancing environmental, recreational and economic benefits to local communities and the state as a whole.

Learn more: Trails

Lake Erie Basin Statistics

  • Length: 241 mi / 388 km
  • Breadth: 57 mi / 92 km
  • Elevation: 569.2 ft / 173.5 m
  • Depth: 62 ft / 19 m average, 210 ft / 64 m maximum
  • Volume: 116 cubic mi / 483 cubic km
  • Water Surface Area: 9,910 square mi / 25,655 square km
  • Drainage Basin Area: 22,700 square mi / 58,788 square km
  • Shoreline Length: 871 mi / 1,402 km (including islands)
  • Outlets: Niagara River and Welland Canal
  • Retention/Replacement Time: 2.7 years
  • Population: United States, ~10,640,671 / Canada ~1,892,306. Total ~12,532,977