When I dipt into the future 
as human eye could see; 
Saw the Vision of the world, and 
the wonder that would be.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, 
Locksley Hall

Executive Summary

The ecological and institutional complexity of managing the read Lakes has caused the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to review current programs and to sharpen its focus on the future. This Strategic vision was produced to communicate the results of this process. It provides an explicit statement of the focus, intent, and direction of commission programs from 1991 through the year 2000 and renews the commission's conviction that an ecosystem approach is essential for successful management of the Great Lakes. A key part of this approach requires that existing relationships must be strengthened and new partnerships must be established between the Commission and its stakeholders - if the challenges of the future are to be surmounted. The strategic Vision is composed of specific statements covering three areas:
  1. Healthy Great Lakes Ecosystems,
  2. Integrated Management of Sea Lamprey, and
  3. Institutional/Stakeholder Partnerships.

Each vision statement has equal priority and should be interpreted in context with the other two. Associated with each vision statement are milestones that describe measurable key events that will occur by certain dates if the Commission is successfully achieving its Strategic Vision. An intensive assessment and evaluation of progress towards achievement of the Strategic Vision will be conducted twice by the Commission and completed by April 15, 1995, and April 15, 2001.

A Scene from the past--a lake sturgeon fishery.

The vision statements are:

1. Healthy Great Lakes Ecosystems

The Commission shall encourage the rehabilitation and protection of healthy aquatic ecosystems in the Great Lakes: The conservation of biological diversity through rehabilitation of native fish populations, species, communities, and their habitats has a high priority.

2. Integrated Management of Sea Lamprey

The Commission will provide an integrated sea lamprey management program that supports the Fish Community Objectives for each of the Great Lakes and that is ecologically and economically sound and socially acceptable.

3. Institutional/Stakeholder Partnerships

The Commission will encourage the delivery of complementary programs focussed upon achievement of Fish Community Objectives as adopted by the Lake Committees for each Great Lake through:



European colonization of the Great Lakes basin during the past 200 years and attendant urban, industrial, and agricultural development have caused remarkable changes in the lakes' flora and fauna and associated habitats. Today, the lakes have aquatic communities that are structurally and functionally volatile and that exhibit rapid changes in species number and abundance. Many of these communities exhibit reduced numbers of native species and a greatly expanded base of non- native species. Sudden changes in abundance of native and non-native species have occurred over periods of only 10-20 years. A few examples since 1950 are as follows: During this same time period, societal demands on the Great Lakes ecosystem caused by human population growth and economic activity have seriously impaired the ecosystem and altered fisheries. For example, nearshore fish habitat has been damaged by coastal development and persistent toxic chemicals in aquatic food chains discouraged the consumption of fish by humans.

These and many other events were so profound that they have challenged and broadened the thinking of fishery experts. Successful fish management of the Great Lakes is now viewed as an activity focussed on the lakes as ecosystems. As a result, effective management requires the coordination and integration of efforts of many governmental agencies. Fishery-management decision makers now must consider the potential effects on the whole system rather than only the effects within jurisdictional boundaries.

The authors of the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries recognized more than 35 years ago that joint and coordinated efforts by the United States and Canada were essential to sustain fishery productivity in the Great Lakes. Signed in 1954, the Convention established the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to effect five general duties (from the Convention):

(a) to formulate a research program or programs designed to determine the need for measures to make possible the maximum sustained productivity of any stock of fish in the Convention Area which, in the opinion of the Commission, is of common concern to the fisheries of the United States of America and Canada and to determine what measures are best adapted for such purpose;

(b) to coordinate research made pursuant to such programs and, if necessary, to undertake such research itself;

(c) to recommend appropriate measures to the Contracting Parties on the basis of the findings of such research programs;

(d) to formulate and implement a comprehensive program for the purpose of eradicating or minimizing the sea lamprey populations in the Convention Area; and

(e) to publish or authorize the publication of scientific and other information obtained by the Commission in the performance of its duties.

The Commission remains committed to accomplishing these duties.

Changes in cultural values over the past 35 years have paralleled the rapid ecological changes within the Great Lakes. These societal changes shape the type of strategies and actions the Commission may consider to fulfill the general duties described in the Convention.

Evidence for these cultural changes include:

Great Lakes commercial fishing vessels.
In response to these changes, fishery agencies recognized that rebuilding the resource required greater management capability than any one agency or government could provide. As a result, in the 1980s the Commission (along with federal, provincial, state, and tribal natural-resources agencies) adopted the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries as an explicit statement for cooperative fishery management on the Great Lakes.

Changes in cultural values and adoption of the Joint Plan have complicated the character of the Commission's work from its early years. Partnerships among agencies and with the public have become a requirement to meet the challenges of managing the Great Lakes as whole ecosystems. In the future, these partnerships will likely mean increased sharing of program elements of Great Lakes management. This complexity has caused the Commission to review current programs and to sharpen its focus on the future. The Commission's development and adoption of this Strategic Vision for the Decade of the 1990s are a result of that process.

The primary audiences for this document are the Commission's cooperator agencies and institutions, the Parties to the Convention, and the Commission itself. This document serves to communicate to federal, provincial, state, and tribal natural-resources agencies the intent and purpose of Commission actions and programs. The Strategic Vision will assist these agencies in understanding the reasons behind the decisions made by the Commission. This document also offers a clear, concise statement to the Parties to the Convention (the two federal governments) as to where the Commission believes the Great Lakes fisheries and their management should be moving.

Purpose and Organization

This document describes the focus, intent, and direction of Commission programs through the year 2000. The ecosystem approach was a key concept central to the discussions that occurred within the Commission as the strategic Vision was developed. As a result of these discussions, the commission adopted the ecosystem approach as a fundamental concept. From this concept, three vision statements were developed and adopted that, together, form the Strategic Vision of the Commission. The titles of the vision statements are:
  1. Healthy Great Lakes Ecosystems,
  2. Integrated Management of Sea Lamprey, and
  3. Institutional/Stakeholder Partnerships.
Each vision statement has equal priority and should be interpreted in context with the other two. Each statement is supported by a set of milestones. Milestones describe measurable key events that will occur by certain dates if the Commission successfully achieves its Strategic Vision. Milestones do not represent a complete list of characteristics, but reflect key attributes that should occur when a vision statement has been accomplished. Those milestones listed were chosen based on their perceived importance as indicators and their ease of measurement. Their order of listing does not imply order of priority. Instead, the milestones should be viewed together with a high priority assigned to each. Milestones are to be achieved before the end of the year 2000 unless otherwise specified.

This strategic document describes what the Commission desires as a future state for the Great Lakes. The document does not include an operational plan that explains the type of actions the Commission will use or encourage to achieve this Strategic Vision. Actions taken by the Commission will vary depending on the particular vision statement. For example, the Commission will function primarily as a leader and facilitator among natural-resources agencies to accomplish the ecosystem and partnership vision statements. The commission will especially need to rely heavily on the cooperation and coordination efforts of other natural-resources agencies. This approach is in contrast to the more direct role the Commission exercises with the sea lamprey management program. The Commission has direct authority over certain program elements as mandated by the Convention, but cooperation with other agencies remains essential in carrying out these responsibilities.

The greatest value of this document will be to the Commission itself. First, the Strategic Vision will assist in decision making. As an issue is discussed by the Commission, the key question to be answered will be "Will a proposed decision impede or enhance the Commission's progress towards achievement of milestones and the vision statements?" Every decision to be made by the Commission can be judged in this way. Second, as a result of using a uniform set of decision criteria, the Commission's programs will be consistent, complementary, and not contradictory. The Strategic Vision offers a framework to ensure that decisions, often of an incremental nature, are logically connected and support achievement of goals. The vision statements, coupled with measurable milestones, will ease evaluation of Commission programs. Regular evaluation will provide essential feedback of information to guide program redirection or correction. The Commission will conduct and report on progress towards achievement of the Strategic Vision by May 15, 1995, and May 15, 2001. In addition, the Secretariat of the Commission shall provide annual progress reports to the Commission on achievement.

Fundamental Concept

The Commission adopts and advocates an ecosystem approach to management and research of Great Lakes fishes.

The ecosystem approach to decision making recognizes the interconnection of air, land, and water of the Great Lakes basin and its inhabitants. All components of the ecosystem (such as nutrients, primary production, forage fish, predatory fish, habitat, chemical contaminants, climate, and human use) interact with each other and therefore must be considered in terms of their system-level effects. This approach is consistent with the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries.

The great abundance of fish and the convenience of the place for fishing have caused the Indians to make a fixed settlement in those parts. It is a daily manna, which never fails; there is no family which does not catch sufficient fish during the course of the year for its subsistence. Moreover, better fish can not be eaten, and they are bathed and nourished in the purest water, the clearest and the most pellucid you could see anywhere.
Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (1658-1730) 
Relation on the Indians, ms.

The ecosystem approach is well suited to address complex problems with extensive linkages such as introductions of unwanted non-native species, toxic chemicals in fish, and nonpoint pollution sources. The ecosystem approach also broadens the Commission's concept of "beneficiaries of management" from commercial fishermen and recreational anglers to stakeholders (clients plus potentially all others in the Great Lakes basin and some beyond). The three vision statements that follow were developed based on this concept.

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