Global Warming and the Walleye

An Ohio Icon at Risk


Few fish have such a strong fan base as the cool-water-loving walleye. The unofficial state fish of Ohio, walleye are targeted by anglers who chase these toothy predators year-round – in rivers and lakes, from boats and shore, and even through the ice.

But a warming climate is changing the world around the walleye.

In Ohio, the walleye is at risk of dramatic population decline as warming lakes are decimating their prey and increasing the threat of invasive species.

Carbon pollution from burning coal, oil, and gas is causing climate change that is threatening fish and wildlife across the globe and in Ohio. If we don’t make changes soon, Ohio will continue to have:

  • Higher annual average temperatures,
  • increased year round precipitation,
  • more frequent heat waves,
  • and a decrease in lake ice, including ice on the Great Lakes.

At-Risk Population

Lake Erie is the most biologically productive of all the Great Lakes, often producing more fish for human consumption than all the other Great Lakes combined. However, climate change now threatens this lake and the walleye it supports as Lake Erie water levels, already below average, could drop 4-5 feet by the end of this century, significantly altering shoreline habitat and decreasing water quality.

Rising temperatures could also change internal water cycling in the Great Lakes that would lead to oxygen-deficient zones (dead zones) that result in large fish kills. One species particularly sensitive to these dead zones is the cisco, a major prey item for walleye. As warming waters decimate cisco populations, the Lake Erie walleye population is likely to follow.

The changing climate could result in more suitable temperatures for non-native aquatic species to invade and expand their range into the Great Lakes and compete with walleye for food sources.

Impacts on Recreation

Changes in the earth’s climate directly threaten treasured wildlife-associated pastimes in Ohio, including fishing. In 2011, Ohio had over 1.34 million anglers, including 85,000 non-Ohio residents that came to the state to fish.

Fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching are not just recreational pastimes; they are also a major contributor to the Ohio economy. In 2011, 4.3 million sportsmen and women and wildlife enthusiasts participated in wildlife associated activities in Ohio. In the same year, anglers alone had a significant contribution to the Ohio economy by spending $1.79 billion in the state. However, this rich community of fish and game, and the economy that depends on it, is at risk from a warming world.

Learn more about National Wildlife Federation's work with hunters and anglers>>

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