on May 09, 2015
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Nature may provide the water, but nothing can foul it like human kind. Thus, it falls to complex institutions like the Cleveland Water Department to clean it for our use.
To mark National Drinking Water Week, the city had an open house Saturday at the historic Garrett Morgan Water Treatment Plant on West 45th Street. It is one of four treatment plants by which the city extracts water from Lake Erie and makes it safe for human consumption before sending it on to 1.4 million customers throughout Northeast Ohio.
An estimated 2,000 people took advantage of the event, going through multiple buildings to view every step of the water-treatment process, including the intake, filtration and chemical treatment of lake water.
Alex Margevicius, the city’s interim water commissioner, said Cleveland water flows into Summit, Medina, Geauga and Portage counties and there is an emergency connection to Lake County.
Beginning in 1856, water was simply brought straight from the lake. Treatment did not begin until 1911, when chlorination and sand filtration were employed. Since the water department began before the Civil War, the city has extended its reach farther out into the lake on three occasions, each time to get away from the influences of the Cuyahoga River.
Margevicius said the Army Corps of Engineers’ practice of dredging the river and dumping the waste in the lake defeats the purpose of extending the intakes.
Currently water travels four to five miles to each of the water treatment plants, said Maggie Rodgers, the city’s director of purification.
The plant on West 45 Street was renamed in 1991 to honor the inventor who saved men trapped in a submerged water-intake tunnel in 1916, the same year the plant opened. Garrett Morgan used what he called a safety hood that he designed. We now call such devices gas masks.
Rodgers said the city relied on steam-powered pumps until the 1960s. Electric pumps replaced them, Margevicius said, and there was so much redundancy built into the system that everyone thought the pumps unstoppable.
Until the great blackout of 2003. So the city got diesel-powered back-up generators for all four plants.
One dividend is the power industry pays the city about $500,000 to take the plants off the power grid during peak usage periods. This defrays the city water department’s annual electric bill of about $18 million.
Jason Wood, public-affairs chief for the city’s department of public utilities, said the water department is the largest in Ohio and ninth-biggest in the nation.
Margevicius said Northeast Ohio gets two blessings from Lake Erie. One is that it is part of the Great Lakes system, which hold a fifth of the world’s fresh water. The other is that lake water is a much more stable source because it is less affected by storm surges and flooding that can afflict rivers.
“Emerging Routes to Environmental Activism: Lake Erie Sportsmen and the League of Women Voters” by Terrianne Shulte D’Youville College Excursions Journal 2011
Lake Erie from Cleveland Historical
Saving Lake Erie Short Documentary from National Geographic
By Brent Larkin
Northeast Ohio should regard building a vibrant water-based economy as a priority so important that the future of the entire region depends on it. It probably does.
Water isn’t the only key to a prosperous future. World-class medical facilities, biosciences, renewable and alternative energy all show promise of contributing to our 21st- century economy. But the unquestioned key to that future is an asset whose origin dates back more than a billion years—the world’s most abundant supply of fresh water.
Of all the world’s water, 97 percent of it is salty. Another 2 percent is locked in ice or snow. Of that remaining 1 percent that is fresh water, the Great Lakes contain just under 20 percent of it. Lakes Erie, Ontario, Michigan, Huron, and Superior boast a total of 11,000 miles of shoreline. Recreation alone on the lakes is a $6 billion-a-year industry.
In considering the magnitude of the importance of Northeast Ohio’s most precious asset, consider that 46 percent of the world’s population does not have water piped into their home, that in undeveloped countries people must walk an average of 3.7 miles to get fresh water.
We have 6 quadrillion gallons (that’s 15 zeros) of it at our doorstep.
Cleveland’s past greatness was rooted in its relationship and reliance upon that water. Lake Erie and the large albeit crooked river that flows into it (the Cuyahoga) made the city a giant in manufacturing, shipbuilding and rail transportation.
Manufacturing will remain a significant part of Northeast Ohio’s economy for the foreseeable future, but it’s decline as the centerpiece of that economy has been inexorable and—when viewed with the benefit of hindsight—inevitable.
But booming economies in the West, Southwest and Southeast are now running out of the water they so desperately need to sustain their growth. Indeed, some aquifers in California are down to 25 percent of
So as other parts of the country—and world—dry up, cities with great quantities of clean, fresh water have the potential to enjoy an economic resurgence. By 2025, an estimated one-third of the world’s population will not have access to fresh water. As a 2008 Goldman Sachs report concluded, fresh water has become “the natural resource with no substitute.” but as Northeast Ohio plans a water-based economy, that planning requires an understanding and appreciation of history. So before explaining how water can return the region to prosperity, let’s examine its paramount role in the greatness of our past.
In 1772 and again in 1786, a missionary and geographer named John Heckewelder visited the Indian-occupied territory along the Lake Erie shoreline at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River. Heckewelder was captivated by the location, which featured the vast lake and countless streams feeding into the river. It was, he thought, the ideal place for a settlement as the young nation expanded west.
On his second visit, Heckewelder established a small trading post along the Cuyahoga, close to what is now known as Tinkers Creek. He also prepared a map of the region.
Relying in part on that map, in 1796 a group of eastern investors purchased from the state of Connecticut what is now the Greater Cleveland region, paying $1.2 million for about three million acres (a little more than 30 cents an acre). They named it the territory of the Western Reserve.
In May of 1796, investors in the Connecticut Land Co. designated Moses Cleaveland as their agent to visit the territory. On July 4, 1796, Cleaveland and his sailing party of about 50 men reached Conneaut. About two weeks later, the group mistakenly thought they had reached its final destination, disappointing surveyors at the small size of the river.
So unhappy was Cleaveland’s group that legend has it they named the small river the Chagrin. More likely is the Indians had already given the Chagrin its name.
Having discovered its likely error, Cleaveland’s party continued west, and on the morning of July 22, 1796, slipped into the Cuyahoga and embarked near the area of the Flats east bank, now known as Settlers Landing. On the day the Cleaveland party landed, the east bank of the Cuyahoga represented the most western point in the United States, or its territories, not controlled by Indian tribes.
Cleaveland was exhausted, but wrote that the location—with its crystal clear lake, magnificent rivers, rich forests, fertile soil, and rolling hills—exceeded investors’ expectations. Within days, Cleaveland had struck a deal with the Iroquois to plot a village east of the river, just south of Lake Erie.
Three months after arriving, Cleaveland left the city that now bears his name, absent that first “a.” He never returned.
In the late 18th century, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to ponder ways of moving goods from the west (the area now known as the Midwest) to population centers in the east. Both centered on the idea of a canal that would move products east along the Ohio River, and at one point Washington was said to recommend a canal that would connect the Ohio to Lake Erie, alongside the Cuyahoga River.
Absent access to a market, farmers in and around the new village of Cleveland struggled in the town’s early years. Then, in the early 1820s, Ohio’s leaders concluded the only way to ensure economic prosperity for the entire state was to construct a canal from the Ohio river north, through Columbus, to Lake Erie.
Many thought the canal’s northern terminus should be in Warren or Sandusky. Alfred Kelley believed that terminus should be in Cleveland. And A turned out to be a very persuasive man. A lawyer, county prosecutor, the youngest elected member of the legislature, and the first president (1815) of the village of Cleveland, Kelley became the state’s most outspoken and effective promoter of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
In 1821, the state legislature began deliberating issues relating to the canal’s funding, route and construction. Kelley’s relentless lobbying paid off, and in 1825 ground was broken on the northern section of the canal that would link Akron to Cleveland. On July 4, 1827, the first boat to travel the canal route from Akron arrived in the Cleveland Harbor.
By the early 1830s, construction on the canal was complete. Economic growth was now all but guaranteed. And Alfred Kelley had earned his place as one of Cleveland’s greatest citizens.
Consider the canal’s economic impact: In 1830, about three million pounds of goods traveled the canal. By 1838, that number had grown to nineteen million. Products from central Ohio’s farmlands poured into Cleveland’s port, filling the harbor with steamboats and other vessels awaiting their turns at the dock. The dramatic increase in business at the port sparked a building boom along the river and on Superior Avenue, as schools, churches, warehouses, and office space gave birth to what was becoming one of the most vibrant and successful ports on the Great Lakes.
Cleveland could offer something unique, direct access east to New York or southeast to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. No other city on the Great Lakes had water access to New York or New Orleans.
Water was pushing this new young village on a path to prosperity.
In the summer of 1860, the Cleveland Leader, one of the city’s daily newspapers, complained of the city’s plight, “We continue to make nothing and buy everything.” That was about to change. Railroads had dramatically reduced the importance of the Ohio & Erie Canal. By the start of the Civil War, five major rail lines passed through the city. At war’s end, iron from the Lake Superior region began arriving by lake carriers in record amounts.
Much was then shipped by rail to steel manufacturers in Pittsburgh, Wheeling, and Youngstown. But by 1868, Cleveland itself was home to more than a dozen steel rolling mills. As the industrial revolution generated startling economic growth across the country, for a time no city grew faster than Cleveland. Water and rail made Cleveland a manufacturing giant, the country’s second largest automotive city, and the largest shipbuilding port on the Great Lakes.
Cleveland’s water-based economy was huge, diverse, and—as the 20th century arrived—seemingly recession-proof. In 1860, Cleveland was a relatively tiny town of 43,000. Seventy years later, it was home to a world-class port and a population of more than 900,000—the nation’s sixth largest. Access to water had made it a vibrant and prosperous city. but the end of that prosperity—and the city’s wise use of its water was nearing the end.
Cyrus Eaton, Cleveland’s world-renowned industrialist, once said the Depression hit his hometown harder than any city in the country.
Indeed, the loss of jobs and the post-war flight to the suburbs launched Cleveland on a path of slow, albeit relentless, economic decline.
As the city began to lose residents and jobs, Cleveland also paid a price for not tending to its greatest asset. By the 1960s, both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River became dangerously polluted, significantly damaging the Northeast Ohio fishing industry and dealing a crippling blow to the city’s reputation.
On June 22, 1969, an oil slick on the Cuyahoga caught fire. Flames on the river reached five stories high. Wooden bridges burned. The city’s water, the primary source of its greatness, made it the butt of jokes that linger to this day.
Three things must happen with our fresh water is it is to play a pivotal role in northeast Ohio’s economic recovery. We must: 1. keep that water here. 2. keep it clean. 3. rebuild the port as an economic hub.
For decades, Lake Erie and the river suffered as phosphorous and other industrial pollutants poured into the water unchecked, killing fish and other helpful species, giving the water an untenable odor, closing beaches, and spreading contamination north to the Canadian shoreline.
In 1972, Congress finally acted, passing the Clean Water Act, which regulates the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s surface waters, including lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and coastal areas. The act dramatically curtailed the discharge of untreated waste water and sewage from government and industrial sources, and eventually made both Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River safer for swimming and fishing.
The results were remarkable. But eventually, problems returned. Lake Erie today again faces significant problems—largely invasive species, sediment, and the vestiges of pollution. The lake and the river are back from the dead, positioned to play a vital role in the 21st-century economy. But it is worth restating that this rebirth will be sustained only if we keep our water clean, wisely build an economy around it, and prevent other parts of the country from tapping into what is Greater Cleveland’s most precious resource.
Toward that end, in 1986 Congress passed the Water Resource Development Act designed, in part, to prevent diversion of Great Lakes water. But many legal scholars thought the act vulnerable to a legal challenge, so in the mid-1990s representatives of the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces began negotiating a basin-wide approach to decisions on water usage.
The result was the St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact—commonly called the Great Lakes Compact, a product of more than four years of negotiations by the governors, a 39-member advisory committee, and input from thousands of U.S. and Canadian citizens. Canada enacted the compact rather quickly. Approval by the eight states and the congress took more than five years.
The Ohio House twice ratified the compact, the second time by a vote of 90–3. But Ohio was one of the last states to give its final approval because the compact stalled in the Ohio Senate for more than a year. an April 27, 2008, editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer—one of many the newspaper wrote urging Ohio to ratify the agreement—angrily suggested the Senate’s foot-dragging “represents one of the most unforgivable public policy abuses perpetrated upon the people of Northeast Ohio in decades.” The paper accused more than several senators of concocting “some crackpot theory” that exposed “all of Ohio to economic harm.”
After allowing some face-saving for the Senate, Ohio became the sixth state to ratify the compact. In October of 2008, President George W. Bush signed it, just days after its approval by the U.S. House and less than a month after passing the U.S. Senate.
Now the law of the land, the Great Lakes Compact essentially bans diversion of large amounts of water outside the Great Lakes. In the United States, each of the eight Great Lakes states has a seat on a water resources council. Any water withdrawal exceeding five million gallons daily must be approved by a majority of the council. Similar diversion rules apply in Canada. In Ohio, only counties straddling the Great Lakes Basin are allowed to use Lake Erie water. Diversion approved prior to the compact’s ratification, like Akron’s large scale use of Lake Erie water, are allowed to continue.
The importance of preventing diversions is enormous, as public officials in arid parts of the country have been publicly talking of preying on Great Lakes water since the early days of the 21st century. In late 2007, when he was running for president, new Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called for a national policy to consider redistribution of water to needy areas, remarking that the West was drying up while places around the Great Lakes were “awash in water.” It was around then that a professor at the University of Alabama produced a plan to pipe water out of the Great Lakes into the Sunbelt.
David Naftzger, a former director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, predicted in 2008 that an eventual water grab is a certainty. “Look at a map showing water shortages and population growth and see how they match up,” Naftzger told the Plain Dealer. “Now look at us and you can see a concern that, as times move on, those areas will be looking at the Great Lakes to bring them water— through either a tanker, pipeline, or natural channels.”
While Congress has the power to repeal the Great Lakes Compact, for now the world’s largest supply of fresh water appears safe. But as a great many commentators have observed, while 20th-century wars were often fought over oil, 21st-century wars will be waged over fresh water.
But even under a worst-case scenario, if some Great Lakes water ends up being diverted later in the century, the advantages enjoyed by the bountiful supply of fresh water enjoyed by just 8 of the 50 states argue strongly for future economic growth.
President Barack Obama has championed a proposal, as of this writing not yet law, that would spend an additional $5 billion over a 10-year period to continue Great Lakes cleanup as part of a plan to revive the lakes’ economic, recreation, and navigational potential. A 2008 Brookings Institute report concluded that such a cleanup would provide Cleveland with an economic boost between $2.1 billion and $3.7 billion with the overall economic benefit to the Great Lakes states estimated at a staggering $100 billion.
The logic is irrefutable. A cleaner Lake Erie for fishing, boating, swimming, and other water activities would not only drive up property values, but would also make the region more desirable for businesses creating jobs and generating wealth. As Greater Cleveland Partnership President, Joe Roman correctly noted, “With 300 miles of shoreline, Cleveland and the rest of Northern Ohio could thrive if we are able to fully realize the economic potential of this tremendous asset.”
Officials in Wisconsin figured this out years before it occurred to those in Greater Cleveland. Four of the world’s 11 largest water technology companies are located in Wisconsin. Milwaukee alone is home to 120 water-related companies. Marquette University Law School now has a water-law curriculum. And planning is underway for a $30 million lake-front headquarters of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Water Institute. Board members and leaders at the Great Lakes Science Center are now engaging in similar water technology efforts, but no one disputes that Greater Cleveland lags behind Milwaukee in planning for a water-based economy of the future.
Another significant problem is the troubling growth of toxic algae in Lake Erie and the spread of zebra mussels. The algae colors the water green and can be dangerous to humans, pets, and wildlife. Zebra mussels harm the fishing industry and pollute beaches. These festering problems only underscore the importance of a sizable, federally-funded Great Lakes cleanup plan.
Rebuilding Cleveland’s port as a significant shipping center is proving an even more daunting challenge. the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port authority, a vision of former Mayor Carl Stokes and Council President James Stanton, was created by county voters in 1968 to oversee what was then one of the Great Lakes’ busiest ports. For the first few decades of its existence, the port thrived. For decades, shipping raw materials to make steel was the port’s main business. But even with the steel industry’s decline, an economic impact study in the late 1990s found the port directly accounted for 4,700 jobs, generated $400 million in spending annually, and $64 million in taxes.
But the port also engaged in a obscene amount of over-ambitious thinking, devoting an inordinate amount of time on plans for a World Trade Center, cruise ship and ferry service, an aquarium and lake front retail none of which materialized. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, shipping at the port declined steadily.
With shipping revenues in a free-fall, the port has struggled to raise its $158 million share of the $600 million tab the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to dredge mountains of muck from the port and Cuyahoga River. Without that dredging—and a place to dump the muck, federal officials have warned that the Cleveland harbor could be shut down by 2015.
By the summer of 2010, Cleveland’s port was in clear crisis mode. the nine-member board fired its director and hired a new one. it scrapped a costly, $1 billion plan to build a new port several miles east of downtown. there was no clear game plan to raise the funds needed for dredging, nor one to revive its slumping shipping business. adding to those woes was the city’s need to secure federal funding to fix a crumbling slope above the river that threatened shipping to sites downstream.
In a series of news stories and editorials, The Plain Dealer outlined the port’s many “immense challenges,” underscored the need for dramatic change, and correctly linked the need for that change with the necessity of the port playing a major role in reviving Greater Cleveland’s economy.
An old, now somewhat trite, saying holds that, in determining the success of a business, the three most important factors are always location, location, and location. The visionary pioneers who settled this territory more than 200 years ago understood that.
Northeast Ohio and, indeed, the entire Great Lakes region, has something the rest of the world desperately needs. What’s more, we have a lot of it.
More than ever before, the fresh water that served us so well in the past represents our best hope for the future.
archives, The Atlantic “Water Summit.” October 29, 2009.
archives, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 2009.
archives, The Plain Dealer. 1991–2010.
Miller, Carol Poh and Robert Wheeler. Cleveland: A Concise History, 1796–1996. 2nd edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.
Rose, William Ganson. Cleveland: The Making of a City. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1950. reprinted with a new introduction. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990.
Van Tassel, David D. and John J. Grabowski. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. 2nd edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
Wallen, James. Cleveland’s Golden Story: A Chronicle of Hearts that Hoped, Minds that Planned and Hands that Toiled, to Make a City “Great and Glorious.” Cleveland: William Taylor & Son, 1920.
Water: Our Thirsty World. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, April 2010.
Further resources: http://www.great-lakes.net/teach/about/
Chris Korleski is director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO). GLNPO coordinates U.S. efforts in implementing the goals and objectives of the Canada – U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, working under the strategic framework of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Before coming to GLNPO, Korleski was director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. He also served as counsel to Honda of America Mfg. Inc. in Marysville, Ohio, and was an assistant attorney general in the Ohio Attorney General’s Environmental Enforcement Section. Korleski earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from The Ohio State University College of Agriculture, and a master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska. He received his law degree from The Ohio State University. Tickets: $18 members/$30 nonmembers
Story of the Battle of Lake Erie from The U.S. National Park Service
From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
FISHING INDUSTRY. Although Cleveland is situated on a lake that historically ranked among the world’s great fisheries, Clevelanders never looked to Lake Erie as a food source in any major sense. After 1796 the fishery was a marginal commerce, overshadowed by the port’s role as a transportation hub and industrial depot. Four major factors, geography, technology, consumer taste, and chronological coincidence, steered commercial fishermen to other ports on Lake Erie, particularly Sandusky, OH, and Erie, PA. By 1850 the Port of Cleveland looked to the Great Lakes for resources that proved of far greater economic importance than inexpensive protein.
The topography of the Lake Erie shore, high and rockbound from just east of the CUYAHOGA RIVER west to Cedar Point, presents as great a navigational hazard as any stretch of water on the Great Lakes. Only a few river mouths provide safe refuge from the sudden storms. On 19 Apr. 1808, Capt. Joseph Plumb of NEWBURGH, fitted out a sailing scow for a seining expedition. A sudden squall wrecked the boat at Dover Point (BAY VILLAGE), drowning all aboard except Capt. Plumb. Plumb was saved in a daring rescue, but the event exposed the difficulties of offshore fishing from Cleveland. Geography placed the richest fishing grounds at the far ends of the lake. The shallow, warm western basin has always been home to most of the lake’s fish. The deep eastern basin, on which Cleveland is sited, holds comparatively few. Because of its depth, it is not as easily fished as the west. Further, the species available off Cleveland were not as profitable to fishermen as the highly desirable fish of the west. Geography gave Cleveland’s competitors another advantage–both Sandusky and Erie grew beside the only natural harbors on Lake Erie. Sandusky and Presque Isle bays provided both refuge and terrain favorable for early fishing equipment.
The earliest extensive commercial fishing in Ohio began during the 1830s in Sandusky Bay. Its calm, shallow water and abundance of fish permitted simple, inexpensive onshore seining. A seine was a large bag-shaped net carried out on the water by rowboat, dropped overboard, and then dragged ashore. The rocky shore of Cleveland was not appropriate for this operation. When the northern port of the Ohio Canal was awarded to Cleveland it profited indirectly from the fishing industry along the Great Lakes, handling large quantities of fish caught elsewhere for transshipment to Ohio hinterland markets. During the 1850s, commercial fishermen moved out into the main fetch of the lake, significantly increasing their catch. Simultaneously, Cleveland received the first shipment of iron ore from the Marquette Range in 1852. This new traffic further congested the busy river, pushing out less profitable vessels. Still, despite the gathering industrial boom, a real commerce in fish did exist in the FLATS. The wholesale grocers who had transshipped imported fish on the canal had evolved into commission merchants who brokered a variety of commodities. These merchants purchased boatloads of fish from as far away as Lake Superior. They would then pack the fish on ice for local sale, or in salt for transport inland–the latter proved more profitable. W. L. Standart, cited as the most prominent commercial fisherman in Cleveland, operated 2 boats from the city, however, he was also a grocer, commission merchant, and saloon keeper. Clearly, Standart was not the professional lakeman seen in other ports.
Consumer taste also retarded the development of a fishing fleet in Cleveland. Both Native Americans and Europeans pursued the coldwater species of fish, especially whitefish and lake trout. This demand remained constant until those populations declined in the 1930s and 1940s. While found throughout the Great Lakes, neither species was particularly numerous in comparatively warm Lake Erie. With the fishing fleets of the upper lakes supplying the premium fish, and those of Sandusky and Erie providing other needs, Clevelanders chose to invest in fleets of freighters to serve the transportation and steel industries. By the 1860s, the economic role of the Port of Cleveland had been
established. The city would be a consumer, not a producer, of raw resources such as foodstuffs. However, some fishing boats sailed from the Cuyahoga, and processing plants continued to clean and preserve the catch. This marginal commerce would last for many years. In fact, the industry did enjoy some growth in the late 19th century. In 1883, for example, the demand of a booming urban population kept 4 major processing houses and several independent operators profitable. Two of the large firms specialized in ocean fish and shellfish, which had been sold in Cleveland since the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The other 2 handled imported lake fish. The independents generally sold their catch directly to grocers or through the municipal market. John W. Averill, Jr., was typical of the owner-operators of this period. His fleet consisted of 4 steam tugs and 1 sailboat, somewhat smaller than the comparable Sandusky firms. Even so, Averill especially advertised his whitefish and lake trout, indicating that he also imported fish.
In 1899 Chicago-based A. Booth & Co., then the largest fishing company on the lakes, opened a fishing station and processing plant in the Flats. Both (est. 1848) were the first to apply sophisticated management and financial procedures to a rough-and-tumble industry. The company soon had stations on all major fishing grounds and plants in most lake cities. True to form, Booth quickly grew to be the largest commercial fishing company in Cleveland. However, the long decline of the fishery had just begun, and the first evidence of it was the collapse of the lake sturgeon population. Relentless fishing and environmental changes caused by pollution and soil erosion decimated this once-valuable species. The period 1880-1915 regularly saw catches of 40 million lbs. of all varieties in Ohio waters. After that, species after species was subjected to the same pressures that had driven the sturgeon to near-extinction. The waters off Cleveland were particularly affected. Contrary to popular belief, the arrival of the sea lamprey did not cause the decline of the fish populations of Lake Erie; the lamprey does not breed in the warm streams feeding into the lake. By the 1920s, the average yearly catch had fallen to 16 million lbs. The decline of the cisco, or lake herring, accounted for most of this loss, which was extremely damaging to the industry as the cisco had accounted for the bulk of the sales. Some of the older firms went out of business as the industry as a whole grew smaller during the 1920s and 1930s. However, the companies that have survived were founded then. Fulton Fish, Euclid Fish, and State Fish all began
as fleet owners and processors. The industry was unionized during the 1930s, which drove up wages and costs; World War II drafted every available sailor into the armed forces, leaving only 1 boat operating out of Cleveland; and postwar consumer taste turned increasingly to beef. By 1950 only 7 boats sailed from the port. Cleveland was not the only city so affected, the industry was withering throughout the Great Lakes.
The nature of the lakes’ ecosystem was changing because of human action. Commercially valuable fish were vanishing, to be replaced by “rough” fish such as carp and smelt, which flourished despite the habitat degradation. Environmental factors, so pronounced in overutilized Lake Erie, culminated in a single great ecological catastrophe; the mayfly hatch of 1954 failed. The loss of this food source was disastrous for fish populations. The number of sauger, blue pike, walleye, and perch plummeted. Moreover, the mayflies served as an environmental indicator. Polluted and oxygen-depleted, Lake Erie increasingly could not sustain life, and this general collapse finished several companies. In 1955 Booth closed its Cleveland station; Star Fisheries, the predecessor to the State Fish Co., occupied their property in the Flats, and lean years followed. In the absence of pollution controls, the lake was increasingly fouled, and the boats departed Cleveland for more promising waters. In 1970, when Governor James Rhodes was forced to suspend fishing because of mercury contamination, only 1 boat, Fred Wittal’s Shark, was left on the river. By 1973, even it was gone. Nevertheless, the abandonment of Cleveland as a fishing harbor did not mean an end to its fish-processing industry. The surviving companies continued to import and distribute fish from the ocean and upper lakes. Prospects brightened in the 1970s as pollution control stemmed the habitat degradation. Fish stocks first stabilized, then grew. Although demand for fish increased, spurred by a cholesterol-conscious society, the fishing industry did not revive because the lucrative tourist industry lobbied for restrictions on the lakemen. Recreational fishermen, arguing that overfishing was responsible for the depletion of the stocks, met increasing success in Columbus, and strict netting regulations were applied. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources instituted a phased ban on gill nets in 1983, which became complete in 1985. Fishermen sold their equipment and quit the industry. By the late 1980s, the majority of lake fish consumed by Clevelanders were caught across the lake in Canada.
Western Reserve Historical Society