1. The concentration and composition of seston were measured in the east basin of Lake Erie (U.S.A.-Canada) to determine whether the classical patterns of nearshore versus offshore zonation considered typical of large lakes have been altered by decades of change in nutrient loading and food web structure, and to test the possibility that food quality for seston consumers, as reflected in nutrient and lipid composition, may currently be diminished. Chlorophyll-a (chl-a), particulate organic carbon (POC), particulate P, total lipid (TL), lipid classes, fatty acids and major phytoplankton groups were compared between the nearshore (< 20 m) and offshore zones in spring and early summer.2. Particulate organic carbon, chl-a and TL concentrations were lower nearshore than offshore, which is a reversal of the classical large lake pattern but consistent with other evidence from the Great Lakes that colonization by filter-feeding dreissenid mussels can cause seston depletion in relatively shallow waters.3. Terrestrial and bacterial fatty acid markers were slightly higher in the nearshore than the offshore, but there was little difference in nutrient, taxonomic or biochemical composition between zones otherwise. This shows a small differential influence of terrestrial and detrital inputs, and a slight shift away from phytoplankton dominance of seston composition in the nearshore, but little difference in potential food quality of seston.4. Microscope counts, phytoplankton fluorescence, and fatty acid composition indicated succession from diatom dominance in May to dominance by cryptophyte and chromophyte flagellates in June and July. Depletion of dissolved P and Si, increased contribution of storage lipids, and changes in fatty acid composition suggested a mild degree of nutrient deficiency during this spring to summer transition.5. Total lipids were dominated by classes typical of pigments and membranes with only moderate amounts of neutral (storage) lipids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) were abundant (especially the long chain omega-3 acids) and the POC : chl-a and POC : particulate P ratios indicated P sufficiency or slight P-deficiency. Despite concerns that some important consumers in the Great Lakes food web may be suffering from diminished food quality, these results point to a generally high seston food quality even with highly abundant mussels and incipient P deficiency in the east basin of Lake Erie.