Blue Pike in Lake Erie
Why was blue pike an economic staple of the Great Lakes? Simple – it was tasty!
Blue pike was once the most commercially harvested and, as many locals will attest, delicious fish found in the lower Great Lakes region. Over one billion pounds – that’s right, over one billion pounds– were caught between 1885 and 1962 mainly in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. Then a strange thing happened – blue pike, a population that once numbered in the millions, disappeared.
Locals began to notice a decline in blue pike numbers in the late 1950s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to recover the species in the early 1970s, but it was too late. Blue pike were declared extinct by the Service in 1976. Once representing over 50 percent of the commercial catch in Lake Erie, the blue pike were gone.
The cause of the species’ collapse has been largely attributed to runoff from now banned phosphorus-based detergents in Lake Erie (with over-fishing and species competition as contributing factors).
Over the years, there have been many rumors of blue pike sightings in angler circles. Many hold out hope that a few wayward fish may have snuck away to smaller lakes where they may still exist today.
Another popular rumor suggests that a local fisherman may have a blue pike stashed away in their freezer, preserving the precious DNA from which future blue pike could be engineered. In 1999, an Ohio angler acknowledged that a fish he believed to be a blue pike had been in his freezer for the past 37 years. Unfortunately, the fish was found to the offspring of a male walleye and a female blue pike rendering its DNA unusable for scientific purposes.
Blue Pike sightings have been recorded in Ontario, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Look-alike blue pike have been determined to be other species entirely. But that hasn’t stopped locals from reminiscing, and hoping for the day when the mighty blue pike returns.
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