top of page



ACARE LOGO White regular no words (small

We are honoured to have Mr. Dave Ullrich share his views on North American and African approaches to fisheries and ecosystem management of large freshwater lakes. We value the long-term experiences and lessons drawn from the global community as we continue to address the issues affecting our Great Lakes globally. The views shared below have valuable insights to enhance sustainable multi-national water resource management and I look forward to the discussions that will surely follow. We read the lessons with an open mind as we continually develop structures and programs to protect the most valuable resource on the planet: water. 

-- Kevin Obiero, ACARE Board Chair, February 24, 2021

Kevin Obiero happy headshot.JPG

This letter is the opinion of one person with extensive experience on the Great Lakes of North America and very limited experience in Africa. They are offered in the spirit of learning from one another, both from success stories and from mistakes. It is my hope that these thoughts will be of value to the African Great Lakes fisheries experts, for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration.

-- Dave Ullrich, December 12, 2019


The African Center for Aquatic Research and Education (ACARE) hosted a conference and workshop in Entebbe, Uganda November 5-7, 2019, during which North American and African structural approaches to fisheries and ecosystem management of large lakes was discussed and reviewed in great detail. At the request of participants, I was asked my opinion as the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission (GLFC) representative about which elements of the North American system might be most transferrable to the setting in Africa. I summarized my views briefly at the conference and set out below is what I presented.

A. Great Lakes of Africa as a Whole


1. Need for a Convention/Treaty

a. North America – Canadians and Americans from federal, state, and provincial levels worked for over 60 years to come up with an agreement on fisheries management and it was only the threat that sea lamprey would destroy the entire fishery that brought them together. The agreement in 1954 created the GLFC, which has the primary responsibility to reduce sea lamprey populations to the lowest possible level. The GLFC also coordinates the efforts of the other jurisdictions and manages a large science research portfolio.


b. Africa – Considering the length of time it took North Americans to reach agreement, and only then in the face of a major threat from sea lamprey, it would be unwise for 11 nations working on 7 lakes to invest the time and effort to come up with a treaty or convention.

Boats at Kayenze - tl.jpg


David Ullrich has worked for over a half century on advancing environmental protection and restoration with a focus on the North American Great Lakes and in several international settings. Most recently, he served as Executive Director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative from 2003-2017. The Cities Initiative works with over 100 U.S. and Canadian mayors from across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin to advance the health of the resource and the people who live in the region. The Initiative leads many efforts to accelerate the work to become a more sustainable region by integrating the environmental, economic, and social activities to improve the quality of life and well-being of its people.


Prior to assuming his current position, Mr. Ullrich served for thirty years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes regional office in Chicago, working on a full range of environmental issues in the six states of the upper Midwest. He worked in many capacities over the years, including Acting Regional Administrator, Deputy Regional Administrator, Waste Management Division Director, Deputy Regional Counsel, Air Enforcement Chief, and Water Enforcement Attorney. He was a founding member and chair of the Midwest Natural Resources Group. He served as Chair of the Great Lakes Water Quality Board for the International Joint Commission from 2013 to 2020, Chair of the Great Lakes Advisory Board from 2012 to 2016, and in 2006 and 2012 was appointed by the President to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission where he served terms as Chair and Vice Chair. In 1986, he completed a six-month executive exchange assignment with the German Interior Ministry. U.S. EPA recognized Mr. Ullrich for a number of his accomplishments during his public service career. 


Mr. Ullrich graduated from Dartmouth College in 1970 with a degree in English and received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1973, with an emphasis in environmental law.  He is a runner and outdoor sportsman. He was married for 39 years to the late Polly Ullrich, an art critic, curator, teacher, and ceramic artist, and their son Eric is a 2012 graduate of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a major in environmental science and sustainability. He currently spends extended time in Australia where he works on rainforest restoration, beach cleanups, and other environmental projects.

2. Need for a Fishery Commission

a. North America – The North American model included the GLFC because of the need to administer the sea lamprey program and carry out the other duties.

b. Africa – There is nothing comparable to the sea lamprey across the African Great Lakes, and as a result, not a need for a fishery commission to deal with an issue like that. The GLFC does facilitate cross boarder collaboration and coordinate science. Emerging issues affecting fisheries across the African Great Lakes such as climate change and aquaculture would best be addressed through collaborative and coordinated science. Something like ACARE would be helpful in Africa to coordinate and support the work of the advisory groups and networks being created to manage the science and inform policy related to fisheries and ecosystems in the 7 Great Lakes.

3. Joint Strategic Plan

a. North America – The jurisdictions established a Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries in 1981, which provided and continues to provide more strategic direction to the numerous jurisdictions in managing the fisheries and the related ecosystems. It grew out of the lake committee structure discussed in B.1.a. below. It is updated only when needed. Mutually agreed upon goals and various strategies were included in the document and the plan creates a robust, collegial process for participants to collaborate in a mutually beneficial way.

b. Africa – Although at some point in the future such a plan like this might be of value to the managers in Africa, it is probably more advantageous at this stage to focus time and energy on establishing the advisory groups and networks for the 7 lakes to get them operating effectively on a lake-by-lake basis, then consider whether a plan for the entire basins of the 7 lakes would be valuable.

4. Data Platform

a. North America – There is not a single platform for Great Lakes data in North America, but multiple ones in governmental agencies and academic institutions. North America would benefit from a more integrated system.

b. Africa – In the earlier stages of data collection and management, Africa would be well served to create an integrated platform where scientists and policy people from the 11 countries around the 7 lakes would have easy access to the data collected by all the countries. A group like ACARE could be very helpful in organizing and implementing such a platform.

5. Just Fisheries Focus or Full Ecosystem Scope

a. North America – The North American system started with a fisheries focus, and especially on sea lamprey, and with the formation of the lake committees in 1964, on the broader fishery. With the advent of the Joint Strategic Plan in 1981, the scope broadened to start factoring ecosystem considerations into the decision making process. Fisheries still dominates the discussions, but there is more awareness of the importance of ecosystem factors such as habitat and water quality.

b. Africa – The African countries have started with a scientific fisheries emphasis but would be well served to include as many ecosystem considerations as possible to deal with biodiversity, ecosystem services, habitat, and water quality considerations.

B. Lake by Lake for the Seven Great Lakes of Africa

1. Lake Committees

a. North America – Lake committees for each Great Lake of North America were established in 1964 as places for the managers from each of the jurisdictions to share information and get to know one another. The structure has served the jurisdictions well over the years to help set fish community objectives, total annual catches, prevent and resolve disputes, and more. A similar approach is taken for water quality and ecosystems under the bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.


b. Africa – A lake by lake approach to organizing among jurisdictions would serve the African countries well. This is much more manageable than trying to have all 11 countries look at all 7 lakes together, especially because of the differences from lake to lake. Establishing advisory groups or networks for each lake, as was done at the conference, is a good beginning. The difficulty will be to keep the groups together once people are facing the demands of their regular jobs back home. ACARE is prepared to provide assistance to the groups and networks to help organize and sustain the work on each of the lakes.


2. Lake-wide Plans

a. North America – The Joint Strategic Plan, with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s leadership, focuses on the basin’s fisheries. The lake committee structure ensures that fisheries are considered lake-by-lake. Under another US/Canadian treaty and authority, there are Lake-wide Action and Management Plans for each of the 5 lakes. These have a broader scope on the ecosystem, and include some specifics on the fishery for each lake. The work of the water quality and ecosystem people, however, is not fully integrated with that of the fisheries people, and more should be done to make that happen.

b. Africa – Having a fully integrated lake-wide action and management plan for each of the African Great Lakes covering the ecosystem including fisheries could provide a process and a document that could help bring all the interested parties together for a common purpose. Having common goals, objectives, and actions to deal with agreed upon challenges faced in each lake would be a major step in the direction of cooperative management. The danger is that this is a big task and could wind up all consuming, as it has at times in the North American context. If carefully managed and executed, again with help from ACARE, these plans could be very beneficial to all involved. If a decision were made to do this, it would have to be with the commitment to implement the plans and not just relegate them to a shelf in the office. The plans could be updated every 5 years to address changes in the ecosystem, fisheries, and jurisdictions.


3. Establishing Fish Community Objectives (FCO)

a. North America – Each lake committee develops “fish community objectives” (FCOs) specific to the lake, and management and restoration plans as needed. Each lake committee also links the fishery objectives to ecosystem or environmental objectives. Establishing FCOs for each lake is at the heart of the cooperative work done by the lake committees. It is the “bottom line” for the fisheries managers and provides a target towards which people can work together.

b. Africa – The situation is more challenging in the African Great Lakes because of the large number of species present. However, the managers certainly could agree upon the most important ones of common interest, and focus on FCOs for them. These would serve as a sound management tool for all involved, and would help communicate progress to the policy makers and broader public.


4. Fishery Focus or Ecosystem Scope

a. North America – The North American model has a focus on the fishery, but is bringing in ecosystem considerations more all the time, especially as it relates to habitat. Fishery managers would be well served to work more closely with water quality and ecosystem managers to have a more comprehensive and integrated approach to the work done by all of them.

b. Africa –The fishery managers in Africa have their hands full with issues related to the fish, but would be well served to reach out to water quality and ecosystem managers sooner rather than later. With the significant impact from land use practices and things like climate change, the sooner these are figured into planning and management of the lakes, the more effective the actions will be.

5. Dispute Prevention and Resolution

a. North America – There is a well-established dispute resolution process built into each lake committee charter and the intent of the Joint Strategic Plan to be a dispute “prevention” mechanism. With ecosystems as complex as the Great Lakes of North America and the number of jurisdictions and people involved, disputes are inevitable. Having anticipated this in advance with a process in mind goes a long way to help make sure disputes are resolved faster and with better results. There is not a formal dispute resolution system in place for fisheries; but, under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the US and Canada relating to water quantity, there is one and it has been helpful.  Recognizing the value of preventing a dispute in advance is a good mind set to establish for all parties involved. The Joint Strategic Plan for fisheries is intended to prevent disputes but is not binding on the signatories.

b. Africa – The Great Lakes of Africa are even larger and more complex freshwater systems than that in North America, and disputes are inevitable. It would be wise to create a dispute prevention and resolution process at the outset to minimize the number of full-blown disputes that arise, and accelerate the completion and increase the quality of the resolutions. Again, ACARE could help in establishment and implementation of this process.

Boats and a stormy sky - tl (6) crop.jpg
Mending fishing nets.jpg
P1060847 crop.jpg
dagaa fishery, bringing in and collectin
ACARE LOGO White regular no words (small
bottom of page