Shipping has nearly ground to a halt on the Great Lakes.

Rapid and extensive ice cover shut down the Goderich harbour on Tuesday and all ports on the lakes may soon have to close for the winter as well.

"It came sudden compared to last year..more gradual last year. This year all of sudden we had winter," says Calvin Kerr of Goderich Elevators.

The federal Great Lakes research laboratory in Ann Arbor reports Friday that nearly 81 per cent of the five lakes' surface area is ice-covered. On Thursday, the ice cover exceeded 85 per cent.

The lab's George Leshkevich says the small drop-off probably happened because winds broke apart some ice, creating open spots.

Lake Huron is over 90 per cent covered in ice.

Satellite imagery shows this year's ice cover has grown rapidly, nearly doubling over the past couple of weeks.

Records show the lakes' most widespread freeze was 94.7 per cent in 1979.

The ice cover topped out at 92.2 per cent last March.

Navigating the Great Lakes this time of year can be a dangerous proposition and getting stuck in the ice is a real problem.

A ship has been stuck in the ice near Cleveland, OH for several days now and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter had to deliver food to the crew because it was running low.

This is a sign that shipping is coming to end on the Great Lakes soon, which means more trucks and rail traffic for now.

Last year, shipping in and out of Goderich didn't resume until April 9th.

Despite the extensive ice cover now, there's hope the 2015 shipping season may resume before the end of March.

"It would take 700 trucks to carry as much product as a laker could haul. So we'd much prefer shipping by water.. It's our business," says Kerr.

With files from The Associated Press