Early settlers were attracted to the Great Lakes region because
of its agricultural lands. Dairy and meat production for local consumption
became the dominant agriculture. As time went by, the growing urban
populations created a demand for specialty crops such as fruit,
vegetables and tobacco. Today, corn, soybeans, and hay are the primary
crops in the Great Lakes region. The northwestern region of Michigan's
Lower Peninsula is known for its cherry production.
Commercial and Sport Fisheries
Commercial and sport fisheries are important industries in the
Great Lakes region. Commercial fishing began in about 1820 and has
increased ever since. About 65 million pounds of fish per year are
harvested from the lakes, contributing more than $1 billion to the
Great Lakes economy. Primary commercial catches include whitefish,
smelt, walleye, and perch, while sport anglers prefer salmon, steelhead,
walleye, lake trout, perch and bass. The commercial fishery in the
region has been declining however, due to over-fishing, pollution,
habitat destruction, and introduction of invasive species.
Sport fishery is a huge tourist attraction, which helps to build
the economy of the Great Lakes region. Sport fishery contributes
$4 billion to the economy. Sport fishery has also been responsible
for the unintended introduction of some invasive species. Exotic
fish such as salmon were purposely introduced to help boost the
sport fishing industry.
The history of shipping practices in the Great Lakes begins in
1825, when the Erie Canal was used to carry settlers west and to
carry freight east. The St. Lawrence Seaway was completed in 1959
and allowed ocean vessels access to the Great Lakes for shipping
purposes. Over 200 million tons of cargo are shipped every year
through the Great Lakes. The three main cargoes are iron ore, coal,
and grain. Other modes of transportation such as trucking and railroads
now compete with shipping in the Great Lakes, and thus shipping
has not expanded much recently.
Recreation and Tourism
The Great Lakes provide a popular tourist attraction. The region
is home to many park systems, conservation and wilderness areas,
and beaches. Fishing, diving, and boating are a few of the many
recreational activities in the region. One-third of all registered
boaters in the U.S. reside in the Great Lakes basin. Recreation
and tourism serve as important economic contributors to many parts
of the Great Lakes region. Boats, marinas, resorts, restaurants,
and the production and sale of outdoor sports equipment, all contribute
to the region's economy.
Industrialization of the Great Lakes region began in the early 20th
century. There were many harmful environmental impacts of early
industrialization, but many are being assessed and fixed today.
Historically, the major industries in the Great Lakes region have
produced steel, paper, chemicals, automobiles and other manufactured
goods. Auto manufacturing and steel production continue to be the
primary industries in the region.