Physical, chemical, and biological stressors have caused profound changes in the Lake Ontario ecosystem and its fish community during the last three decades. In the offshore, cultural eutrophication has been reversed and water quality has improved, but the resulting oligotrophication coupled with invasive species impacts has lowered the carrying capacity of offshore fisheries. Cultural eutrophication remains a problem in the coastal zone possibly exacerbated by altered nutrient cycling related to invasive species. Lake Ontario will likely experience additional ecosystem stress from invasive species, habitat alteration, new contaminants and increasing human populations, particularly in the western basin.
These on-going disruptions in Lake Ontario’s ecosystem, coupled with declines in funding available for monitoring programs, poses a threat to our ability to understand and manage these changes. The U.S. – Canada Lake Ontario Lakewide Management Plan (LaMP) and its partner the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s Lake Ontario Lake Committee (LOC) have responded by promoting collaborative monitoring approaches recognizing that the scale of multi-trophic level monitoring needed to fully characterize the status of the ecosystem is beyond the resources available to any one organization. The LaMP and LOC began by bringing together a wide range of government and university experts in 2003 to carry out the binational Lake Ontario Lower Aquatic Food Web Assessment project (LOLA), the first lakewide assessment performed since dreissenid mussels had become established.
A fall 2005 workshop held to discuss LOLA’s results developed recommendations on how to improve collaborative Lake Ontario monitoring efforts. This 2008 Intensive Monitoring Year planning workshop is structured around these LOLA recommendations. The International Joint Commission’s Council of Great Lakes Research Managers’ financial support has been key to maintaining the momentum of these initial collaborative efforts. The findings of the LOLA project are available on the web at:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada have established a long term five-year rotating cycle of special monitoring years for each of the Great Lakes with 2008 designated as the next intensive monitoring year for Lake Ontario. Ideally monitoring approaches and collaborative partnerships developed for 2008 could be maintained at a lower level of effort on an annual basis as well. Some of the major 2008 planning topics to be addressed in this workshop include:
1) Reassessing Lake Ontario’s lower food web.
2) Improving nearshore monitoring approaches.
3) Conducting a lakewide assessment of lake trout.
4) Coordinating lower food web and fishery assessments.
5) Exploring the use of new technologies to augment traditional sampling approaches.
6) Developing creative funding mechanisms and multi-party funding proposals.
7) Building new collaborative partnerships.
It is unrealistic to think that these issues can be fully addressed in one workshop. However the workshop can be judged a success if key data needs, willing partners and broad sampling approaches are identified as a first step in developing a cooperative binational monitoring plan for 2008.
International Joint Commission Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, "Developing a Cooperative Monitoring Strategy for Lake Ontario: 2008 Intensive Year and Long-Term Sampling Design" (2006). Technical Reports. 118.