How Many Fish Are In the Great Lakes?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: January 24, 2023
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The Great Lakes are dominant parts of the landscape in the northern part of the United States, but they have an impact on the rest of the country too! Fish are an important resource that the Great Lakes provide, but just how much is there? Additionally, how many types of fish can be found in the lakes? Today, that’s what we are going to explore. Let’s discover how many fish are in the Great Lakes?

How many fish are in the Great Lakes?

How Many Fish Are In the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes are home to about 177 species of fish.

©, LLC

There are about 177 species of fish across the five Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes are among the largest freshwater bodies in the world and together make up a fifth of the entire world’s surface freshwater. This massive ecosystem is important for the region and for the humans living in the area. We rely on the lakes for transportation, water, and resources. One of the resources that the Great Lakes have in abundance (besides water) is fish!

Tallying the number of fish in the Great Lakes is a monumental task, but it’s been done. Currently, there are 139 native species and at least 34 non-native species living across the lakes. Together, there are around 177 species of fish within the totality of the Great Lakes.

How much fish is caught from the Great Lakes each year?

How Many Fish Are In the Great Lakes?

Millions of pounds of fish are caught from the Great Lakes each year.


To get an understanding of how large these lakes are, it may help to look at the sheer number of fish caught in their waters.

In 2019, 950 million fish were caught by anglers (fishermen) in the region. Of those 950 million, 64% were released alive. Additionally, the estimated weight of the harvested catch of fish (fish caught, killed, and used for food) was around 350 million pounds. If those numbers are somewhat consistent each year, around 350 million pounds of fish are caught from the Great Lakes each year.

Additionally, the fishing industry in the region is valued at more than $7 billion each year. That $7 billion creates 75,000 jobs in the region, plus an influx of money from anglers traveling and spending from around the world to fish.

Which Great Lake has the most fish?

Lake Erie is known as the Great Lake with the most fish. The general rule is that Erie has 2% of the water, but 50% of the fish.

This strange statistic is actually quite easy to account for. Lake Erie is located in the south, closer to the farming and industrial regions of the United States. Runoff from farms is primarily nitrogen-rich, causing algae bloom to increase. When algae blooms spread, they impact the natural cycle in the water, increasing other bioactive elements of the lake.

What is the most common type of fish?

How Many Fish Are In the Great Lakes?

Lake whitefish are an important commercial resource in the Great Lakes.

©NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory / flickr – License

Of the 177 species of fish, four species make up the foundation of commercial fishing in the region. Lake whitefish, walleye, yellow perch, and ciscoes are the four species of fish that are most often commercially fished. Whitefish are often smoked and sold in grocery stores, and yellow perch are sold as panfish and are used in restaurants.

At a recreational level, salmon, walleye, trout, and muskellunge are among the most commonly sought fish. Anglers from all over the world go to the Great Lakes in hopes of catching one of these tough battling (and often delicious) fish species.

What is the rarest fish species?

How Many Fish Are In the Great Lakes?

Lake sturgeon is a strange, prehistoric freshwater fish.


The size and depth of the Great Lakes lend themselves as a prime home for some really rare fish. Some of the most uncommon fish that can be found in the Great Lakes include the lake sturgeon, the bloater, and the burbot.

Lake sturgeon are the largest fish that can be found in the Lakes and can grow to 7.5 feet long and weigh over 240 lbs. These fish are evolutionarily ancient and have been around for a very long time.

Bloaters are small fish that get their name due to their habit of blowing up when they are brought to the surface from their natural habitat. Since they usually reside between 95 and 650 feet deep, the lack of pressure at the surface causes them to expand.

Burbots are very strange fish that resemble catfish but are longer and more slender. They live in cold water and are the only species of cod-like freshwater fish.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Stenko Vlad/

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do sharks live in the Great Lakes?

While there are not sharks in the Great Lakes, there are dangerous fish that live in the Great Lakes. Three of the invasive, and potentially dangerous types that live there are pacu, snakeheads and sea lamprey.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.