Lake Erie is home to one of the world's largest freshwater commercial fisheries. Lake Erie's fish populations are the most abundant of the Great Lakes, partially because of the lake's relatively mild temperatures and plentiful supply of plankton, which is the basic building block of the food chain. The lake is "loaded with superstars" such as steelhead, walleye (American usage) or pickerel (Canadian usage),  smallmouth bass, perch, as well as bass, trout, salmon, whitefesh, smelt, and many others. The lake consists of a long list of well established introduced species. Common non-indigenous fish species include the rainbow smelt, alewife, white perch and common carp. Non-native sport fish such as rainbow trout and brown trout are stocked specifically for anglers to catch. Attempts failed to stock coho salmon and its numbers are once again dwindling. Commercial landings are dominated by yellow perch and walleye, with substantial quantities of rainbow smelt and white bass also taken. Anglers target walleye and yellow perch, with some effort directed at rainbow trout. A variety of other species are taken in smaller quantities by both commercial and sport fleets.
Up until the end of the 1950s, the most commonly caught commercial fish (more than 50% of the commercial catch) was a subspecies of the walleye known as the Blue Walleye (sander vitreus glaucus) sometimes erroneously called "blue pike". In the 1970s and 1980s, as pollution in the lake declined, counts of Walleyes which were caught grew from 112,000 in 1975 to 4.1 million in 1985, with estimates of the numbers of Walleyes in the lake at around 33 million in the basin, with many of 8 pounds or more. Not all Walleyes thrived. The combination of overfishing and the eutrophication of the lake by pollution caused the population to collapse, and in the mid 1980s, one species of Walleye called the Blue Walleye was declared extinct. But the Lake Erie Walleye was reportedly having record numbers, even in 1989, according to one report. There have been concerns about rising levels of mercury in Walleye fish; a study by the Canadian Ministry of the Environment noted an "increasing concentration trend" but that limits were within acceptable established by authorities in Pennsylvania. It was recommended, because of PCBs, that persons eat no more than one walleye meal per month. Because of these and other concerns, in 1990, the National Wildlife Federation was on the verge of having a "negative fish consumption advisory" for walleyes and smallmouth bass, which had been the bread-and-butter catch of an $800 million commercial fishing industry.
The longest fish in Lake Erie is reportedly the sturgeon which can grow to ten feet long and weight 300 pounds, but it is an endangered species and mostly lives on the bottom of the lake. In 2009, there was a confirmed instance of a sturgeon being caught, which was returned to the lake alive, and there are hopes that the population of sturgeons is resurging.
Sunset on Lake Erie seen through a fishing net.
Estimates vary about the fishing market for the Great Lakes region. One estimate of the total market for fishing, including commercial as well as sport or recreational fishing, for all of the Great Lakes, was $4 billion annually, in 2007. A second estimate was that the fishing industry was valued at more than $7 billion.
But since high levels of pollution were discovered in the 1960s and 1970s, there has been continued debate over the desired intensity of commercial fishing.Commercial fishing in Lake Erie has been hurt by the bad economy as well as government regulations which limit the size of their catch; one report suggested that the numbers of fishing boats and employees had declined by two-thirds in recent decades. Another concern had been that pollution in the lake, as well as toxins found inside fish, were working against commercial fishing interests. U.S. fishermen based along Lake Erie "lost their livelihood" over the past few decades described as being "caught in a net of laws and bans", according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and no longer catch fish such as whitefish for markets in New York. Pennsylvania had a special $3 stamp on fishing licenses to help "compensate commercial fishermen for their losses", but this program ended after five years turning Erie's commercial fishing industry into an "artifact." One blamed the commercial fishing ban after a "test of wills" between commercial and recreational fishermen: "One side needed large hauls. The other feared the lake was being emptied."
Commercial fishing is now predominantly based in Canadian communities, with a much smaller fishery—largely restricted to yellow perch—in Ohio. One account suggested that Canadian fishermen are "still at it and making money" and they "know how to fish" by "using the old nets." The Ontario fishery is one of the most intensively managed in the world. However, there are reports that some Canadian commercial fishermen are dissatisfied with fishing quotas, and have sued their government about this matter, and there have been complaints that the legislative body writing the quotas is "dominated by the U.S." and that sport fishing interests are favored at the expense of commercial fishing interests. Cuts of 30 to 45 percent for certain fish were made in 2007. The Lake Erie fishery was one of the first fisheries in the world managed on individual transferable quotas and features mandatory daily catch reporting and intensive auditing of the catch reporting system. Still, the commercial fishery is the target of critics who would like to see the lake managed for the exclusive benefit of sport fishing and the various industries serving the sport fishery. In November 2010, Ontario's oldest and largest fish processor known as Great Lakes Fish Corporation was shut down after operating for a hundred years; 130 workers were laid off and numerous spinoff jobs disappeared, such as jobs at local restaurants and net repair shops. According to one report, the Canadian town of Port Dover is the home of the lake's largest fishing fleet, and the town features miniature golf, dairy bars, French-fry stands, and restaurants serving perch.
The lake can be thought of as a common asset with multiple purposes including being a fishery. There was direct competition between commercial fishermen and sport fishermen (including charter boats and sales of fishing licenses) throughout the lake's history, with both sides seeking government assistance from either Washington or Ottawa, and trying to make their case in the "court" of public opinion through newspaper reporting. But other groups have entered the political process as well, including environmentalists, lakefront property owners, industry owners and workers seeking cost-effective solutions for sewage, ferry boat operators, even corporations making electric-generating wind turbines.
Management of the fishery is by consensus of all management agencies with an interest in the resource and include the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and the province of Ontario, and work under the mandate of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The commission makes assessments using sophisticated mathematical modeling systems. The Commission has been the focus of considerable recrimination, primarily from angler and charter fishing groups in the U.S. which have had a historical antipathy to commercial fishing interests. This conflict is complex, dating from the 1960s and earlier, with the result in the United States that, in 2011, commercial fishing was mostly eliminated from Great Lakes states. One report suggests that battling between diverse fishing interests began around Lake Michigan and evolved to cover the entire Great Lakes region. The analysis suggests that in the Lake Erie context, the competition between sport and commercial fishing involves universals and that these conflicts are cultural, not scientific, and therefore not resolvable by reference to ecological data.
The lake also supports a strong sport fishery. While commercial fishing declined, sport fishing has remained, although one hitch for Americans seeking to fish in the lake is the problem that the "deeper and cooler waters" that spawn the best fishing is in the Canadian side of the lake. As a result, a fishing boat that crosses the international border triggers the security concerns of border crossings; one article in USA Today advised fishermen to "pack your passport". If their boat crosses the invisible border line in the lake, upon returning to the American shore, passengers will have to "drive to a local government reporting station and pose for pictures" to Customs officers by videophone. There are cumbersome rules for fishing boat operators as well, who will have to fax passenger personal information to a government agency an hour before leaving; officers will be watching and doing spot checks from patrol boats and government aircraft". Authorities in 2008 from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have tried stocking the lake with brown trout in an effort to build what's called a put-grow-and-take fishery. There was a report that charter boat fishing increased substantially on the American side, from 46 to 638 charter boats in operation in Ohio alone, during a period from 1975 to 1985 as pollution levels declined, and after populations of Walleye increased substantially in the lake. In 1984, Ohio sold 27,000 nonresident fishing permits, and sport fishing was described as "big, big business." In 1992, there were accounts of fishermen catching 8, 10, and 12 pound Walleyes and that the "runt of a five-man daily limit of 25 walleye might be a nuisance of 5 pounds." It is possible to fish off piers in winter although it can get "pretty darned cold on those piers" for a fish called the burbot, also known by pseudonyms such as eelpout, mudblow, lawyer fish, cusk, or freshwater cod, which looks "ugly" but tastes great; the burbot make a midwinter spawning run and is reportedly one of "Erie's glacial relics."
A drill used to bore hole for ice fishing.
In winter when the lake freezes, many fisherman go out on the ice, cut holes, and fish. It is possible to even build bonfires on the ice.
But venturing on Lake Erie ice can be dangerous. In a freak incident in 2009, warming temperatures and winds of 35 miles per hour and currents pushing eastward dislodged a miles-wide ice floe which broke away from the shore, trapping more than 130 fishermen offshore; one man died while the rest were rescued by helicopters or boats.“ The day began with fishermen setting down wooden pallets to create a bridge over a crack in the ice so they could roam farther out on the lake. But the planks fell into the water when the ice shifted, stranding the fishermen about 1,000 yards offshore. ... Leslie Love, 65, of New Albany, Ohio, died of an apparent heart attack after his snowmobile broke through the ice while he was searching for a safe place to cross back to shore ... Ice on western sections of Lake Erie was up to 2 feet thick Saturday ... When fishermen realized late Saturday morning that the ice had broken away, they began to debate the best way off. Some chose to sit and wait for authorities, while others headed east in search of an ice bridge. ... Fishermen closer to the ice break used their cell phones to warn those farther from shore. ... Others managed to get to land on their own by riding their all-terrain vehicles about five miles east to where ice hadn't broken away. ... When the rescued fishermen made it to shore, authorities had them line up single-file to take down their names ... report by John Seewer, February 2009 ”
Sour cherry orchard on shoreline at Leamington, Ontario
The lake's formerly more extensive lakebed creates a favorable environment for agriculture in the bordering areas of Ontario, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. The Lake Erie sections of western New York State have a suitable climate for growing grapes, and in Chautauqua County there have been many vineyards and wineries in the area as well as in Erie County in northwestern Pennsylvania. Much grape juice is produced in this region. The Canadian region of Lake Erie's north shore is becoming a more prominent wine region as well; it has been dubbed the Lake Erie North Shore, or LENS region, and includes Pelee Island, and since it is farther north than comparable wine-growing areas in the world, the season is longer in terms of light. "Spring comes to LENS at least two weeks earlier and winter arrives a minimum of two weeks later than the rest of Ontario's wine regions", and the lake-moderated temperatures make the risk of early frosts less likely.
The drainage basin has led to well fertilized soil. Ohio's north coast is widely referred to as the nursery capital.
Lake Erie is a favorite for divers since there are many shipwrecks, perhaps 1,400 to 8,000 according to one estimate, of which about 270 are "confirmed shipwreck locations." Most wrecks are undiscovered but believed to be well preserved and in good condition and at most only 200 feet (61 m) below the water surface. One report suggests there are more "wrecks per square mile" than any other freshwater location, including wrecks from Native American watercraft. There are efforts to identify shipwreck sites and survey the lake floor to map the location of underwater sites, possibly for further study or exploration. While the lake is relatively warmer than the other Great Lakes, there is a thermocline, meaning that as a diver descends, the water temperature drops about 30 degrees Fahrenheit (16.7 °C), requiring a wetsuit. One estimate is that Lake Erie has a quarter of all 8,000 estimated shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. They are preserved because the water is cold and salt-free creating "intact time capsules down there". Divers have a policy of not removing or touching anything at the wreck else the "next person won't be able to see it"; when artifacts were removed on occasion, it was met by "outrage" by the diving community. The cold conditions make diving difficult and "strenuous" requiring divers with skill and experience. One charter firm from western New York State takes about 1,500 divers to Lake Erie shipwrecks in a typical season from April through October.“ Among the diving community, they are considered world class, offering opportunities to visit an underwater museum that most people will never see.-- reporter Shannon M. Nass of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2010 ”
The Anthony Wayne side-wheel passenger and cargo steamship sank in 1850 but was rediscovered in 2006 by diver Tom Kowalczk about six miles (10 km) north of Vermilion, Ohio. It is believed to be the oldest archaeological steamship wreck in Lake Erie, according to the Great Lakes Historical Society.
In 1991, the 19th-century sidewheeler Atlantic was discovered. It had sunk in a collision with the Ogdensburg, a steamship sometimes referred to as a propeller according to 19th century parlance, in 1852 six miles (10 km) west of Long Point, Ontario and survivors from the Atlantic were saved by the Ogdensburg.  One account suggests 130 people drowned while another suggests about 20 drowned. The aftermath of the disaster led to calls for authorities to seize captains of both ships so "that the cause of the collision may be correctly ascertained" as well as calls for more lifeboats and improved life preservers since the earlier ones proved to be "totally useless." There was speculation that the sunken vessel had been a gambling ship, and therefore there might have been money aboard, but most historians were skeptical. In 1998, the shipwreck of the vessel Adventure was the first shipwreck registered with the state of Ohio as an "underwater archaeological site"; when it was discovered that the Adventure's propeller had been removed and given to a junkyard, the propeller was rescued days before being converted to scrap metal and brought back to the dive site and back to its underwater home. In 2003, divers discovered the steamer Canobie near Presque Isle, which sunk in 1921. Other wrecks include the fish tub Neal H. Dow (1910), the Elderado "steamer-cum-barge" (1880), the W. R. Hanna, the Dundee which sank north of Cleveland in 1900, the F. H. Prince, and The Craftsman. In 2007, the wreck of the steamship named after Mad Anthony Wayne was found near Vermilion, Ohio in 50 feet (15 m) of water; the vessel sank in 1850 after its boilers exploded, and 38 people died. The wreck belongs to the state of Ohio and "salvaging it is illegal" but divers can visit it after it is surveyed. Incidentally, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975 in Lake Superior and the disaster was chronicled in Gordon Lightfoot's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In addition, there are wrecks of smaller vessels, with occasional drownings of fishermen.
Candaian build The Canadian-built brig warship Caledonia sunk in Lake Erie in the War of 1812 and was described as a "stunningly well-preserved shipwreck" in the Canadian newspaper National Post. It sparked a legal battle about resurfacing it and using it as a tourist attraction.
The finding of the well-preserved wreck of the Canadian-built British troop transport warship Caledonia, sunk during the War of 1812, has led to accusations about plundering of the site and legal wrangling about whether the vessel should be resurfaced in time for the 2013 war's bicentennial.
Research into shipwrecks has been organized by the Peachman Lake Erie Shipwreck Research Center, or PLESRC, located on the grounds of the Great Lakes Historical Society. In 2008, the Great Lakes Historical Society announced plans to survey the underwater battle site of the Battle of Lake Erie in preparation for the bicentennial celebration of the battle in 2013.
There are numerous public parks around the lake. In western Pennsylvania, a wildlife reserve was established in 1991 in Springfield Township for hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing and walking along the beach. In Ontario, Long Point is a peninsula on the northwest shore near Port Rowan that extends 20 miles (32 km) into Lake Erie which is a stopover for birds migrating as well as turtles; one reporter found a "turtle-crossing" sign along the road; Long Point Provincial Park is located there and has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. In Ontario's Sand Hill Park, east of Port Burwell, there is a 450-foot (140 m) high dune which is so steep it requires people to "crawl like crabs to the summit" but they are rewarded with spectacular lake views. In southern Michigan, Sterling State Park offers campgrounds, 1,300 acres (530 ha) for hiking, biking, fishing, boating, with a "white sandy beach" for sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking.
The New York Times reporter Donna Marchetti took a bike tour around the Lake Erie perimeter in 1997, traveling 40 miles (64 km) per day and staying at bed and breakfasts. They went through the cities of Cleveland, Erie, Windsor, Detroit and Toledo as well as resort towns, vineyards, and cornfields. The trip highlights were the "small port towns and rural farmlands of southern Ontario". There are few bike repair shops in Ontario on the route.
Lichen, moss and grasses on karstic limestone surface on Kelley's Island
Lake Erie islands tend to be in the westernmost part of the lake and have different characters. Some of them include:
Kelleys Island. One account in the Chicago Tribune depicted the charms of Kelleys Island to be "more subtle" than Put-in-Bay with activities such as beach lounging, hiking, biking, and "marveling at deep glacial grooves left in limestone."
Pelee Island. There is a ferry from Leamington in Ontario to this largest of the Lake Erie islands. According to one report, the island has a "fragile and unique ecosystem" with plants rarely found in Canada such as wild hyacinth, yellow horse gentian, and prickly pear cactus. There are two endangered snakes including the blue racer and the Lake Erie water snake. Songbirds migrate there in spring, and monarch butterflies stop over during the fall.
South Bass Island The island-village of Put-in-Bay, Ohio attracts young crowds who sometimes wear "red bucket hats" prone to "break off cartwheels in the park" and general merriment. It was described in one account as the "party island" with "lovely, rocky cliffs" with a year-round population in the hundreds that "explodes during the gentle Midwestern summer."
Kite surfing is increasingly popular on the lake.
Kayaking has become more popular along the lake, particularly in places such as Put-in-Bay, Ohio. There are spectacular views with steep cliffs with exotic wildlife and "100 miles of paddle-friendly shoreline." Long distance swimmers have swum across the lake to set records; for example, a 15-year-old amputee swum the 12-mile (19 km) stretch across the lake in 2001. In 2008, 14-year-old Jade Scognamillo swam from New York's Sturgeon Point to Ontario's Crystal Beach and completed the 11.9-mile (19.2-km) swim in five hours, 40 minutes and 35 seconds, and also became the youngest swimmer to make the crossing. It is illegal for swimmers younger than 14 to attempt such a crossing. In Port Dover, Ontario, brave swimmers do high-dives at the annual Polar Bear Swim on the beach; in 2011, the water was 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0°C), although the air was warmer, which did not deter 14-year old youth Austin Merrell. Currents can pose a problem, and there have been occasional incidents of drownings. 
Lighthouse on Mohawk Island, Ontario
The lake is dotted by distinct lighthouses. A lighthouse off the coast of Cleveland, beset with cold lake winter spray, has an unusual artistic icy shape, although sometimes ice prevents the light from being seen by maritime vessels.
A New York Times reporter, biking through the region in 1997, found the Ontario town of Port Stanley to be the "prettiest of the port towns" with a lively "holiday air" but no "ticky-tacky commercialism".
There are numerous vineyards around the lake, including ones on Pelee Island which makes wines including pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay.
People can rent summer houses and cabins near the lake to enjoy the beaches, swimming, as well as be close to activities such as wine tours and fishing and water parks. Presque Isle is a peninsula jutting out into the lake in northwestern Pennsylvania which has nice beaches, although there were incidents in 2006 when beaches had to be closed because of unexplained unhealthy water conditions with E. Coli bacteria. It was described as a "spit of sand, trees and swamp that arcs off the shore" with seafood restaurants and beautiful sunsets. Pelee Island, Canada's southernmost point and only three miles away from Ohio, is a place that "forces you to do nothing":“ I spent the next couple of hours riding that guy's creaky, brown three-speed across the flat, open island in a flawless summer breeze. I saw kilometres of gentle, swaying soybean fields. Occasional dense stands of trees. A red-brick schoolhouse attended by 10 children. A dozen cars – most of the drivers offering a wave. And ... that's about it. No stoplights. Few businesses other than a bakery, a few B&Bs, a small grocery and a gift store. Certainly no chains or corporations. And that's the point ... excitement comes in the form of a pilgrimage to the old stone lighthouse. – Josh Noel of the Nanaimo Daily News in 2010 ”
Pleasure boat operators offer dinner cruises in the Cleveland area on the Cuyahoga River as well as Lake Erie.
Navigating the locks in the Welland Canal
The lake has been a "bustling thoroughfare" for maritime vessels for centuries.  Ships headed eastwards can take the Welland Canal and a series of eight locks descending 326 feet (99 m) to Lake Ontario which takes about 12 hours, according to one source. Thousands of ships make this journey each year. During the 19th century, ships could enter the Buffalo River and travel the Erie Canal eastwards to Albany then south to New York City along the Hudson River. Generally there is heavy traffic on the lake except during the winter months from January through March when ice prevents vessels from traveling safely. In 2007, there was a protest against Ontario's energy policy which allows the shipping of coal in the lake; GreenPeace activists climbed a ladder on a freighter and "locked themselves to the conveyer belt device that helps to unload the ship's cargo"; three activists were arrested and the ship was delayed for more than four hours, and anti-coal messages were painted on the ship.
The ship traffic in Lake Erie being the highest among the Great Lakes and roughest of the lakes has led to it having the highest number of known shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. There have been other accidents as well; for example, in 2010 according to The Star, crewmen from the freighter Hermann Schoening were sickened by phosphine gas which had been used to fumigate or control pests; rescuers took them by tugboat to receive medical attention.
Cleveland skyline in winter.
The Port of Cleveland generated over $350 million and over 15 million tons of cargo in a recent year. The port will begin work on a new set of docks with more efficient railway, road, and crane access. The current port facility is unable to handle larger cargo ships, and the cranes needed to lift goods such as steel to truck trailers are insufficient to meet current shipping standards. This project is planned to start in 2010 and will be completed by 2020.
Ferryboats operate in numerous places. But plans to operate a ferryboat between the U.S. port of Erie and the Ontario port of Port Dover ran into a slew of political problems, including security restrictions on both sides as well as additional fees required to hire border inspectors. In particular, Canada was described as having a "sticky set of laws"; the project was abandoned.
The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. One reporter thought the roads on the Canadian side were narrower, sometimes without shoulders, but were less trafficked except for the roads around the Ontario towns of Fort Erie and Port Colborne. Drivers can cross from the United States to the Canadian town of Fort Erie by going over the Peace Bridge.
The Lake Erie airspace has significant air traffic as well, with occasional plane crashes.
Since the border between the two nations is largely unpatrolled, it is possible for people to cross undetected from one country to the other, in either direction, by boat. In 2010, Canadian police arrested persons crossing the border illegally from the United States to Canada, near the Ontario town of Amherstburg.