Lamprey cuts threaten charter boat captains


A $3 million federal cut from sea lamprey control in 2012 could cause many of Michigan’s charter boat captains to go out of business, according to the state’s Charter Boat Association.

Workers sterilize sea lamprey at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hammond Bay Biological Station on Lake Huron. See video below.

“We used to find lampreys attached to fish — there would be as many as three sea lamprey attached to one salmon,” said Terry Walsh, president of the organization. “If sea lampreys bounce back, we will end up with a situation that will get out of control.”

It would be another blow to the association, which has lost more than 600 members in recent decades, leaving it with only 347 statewide, he said.

Sea lampreys have been controlled in recent years thanks to pesticide treatments, reducing their population by almost 90 percent.

The control program, which in 2011 received $21.7 million from the U.S. and roughly $8.1 million from Canada, uses about 90 percent of its funds for sea lamprey control — the remaining 10 percent goes toward research and administration. These costs include creating traps and barriers and treatment with lampricide, a chemical toxic to lampreys, said Marc Gaden, communications director and legislative liaison at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Lampricide was discovered in the 1950s, Gaden said.

“Scientists tested thousands of different chemicals,” he said. “Lampricide kills lampreys but doesn’t harm fish … it kills lampreys while they’re in the larvae stage, before they get a chance to kill fish.”

Native to the Atlantic Ocean, lampreys are an extreme threat to the Great Lakes environment. They swim into the open lake and prey on fish, mainly trout and salmon. They often kill these fish before they are able to reproduce.

“When lampreys are uncontrolled, lake trout may only live to five years, but they usually don’t mature and reproduce until they’re around seven,” Gaden said.

Their destruction tends to throw off the entire food chain. For example, in the 1950s, the alewife, a small fish measuring only around six inches, swam its way into the Great Lakes. Larger fish typically ate the alewife, but as the lamprey problem grew, the larger fish began dying, which caused the alewife population to boom.

“Sea lamprey control is a high priority because it supports a $7 billion industry related to fishing in the Great Lakes,” said Jeff Slade, station supervisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Without sea lamprey control, many top predators —Pacific salmon, lake trout — would decline very rapidly, and create an overall imbalance in the aquatic ecosystem.”

Another method of lamprey control is sterilization. Implemented in 1991, male lampreys are sterilized, causing the females to waste their eggs.

This technique is used only in the St. Marys River. It is unknown how budget cuts will affect this program.

“Lampreys are a very solvable problem,” Gaden said. “We’ve figured out a technique to deal with it. The most destructive species is also the one we can control.”

When asked about the cuts, Erin Sayago, communications director for U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., issued this statement:

“While budget cuts are sure to impact control efforts, it’s also clear that across the Great Lakes basin and country in general, more has to be done with less as we need to stop spending money we don’t have. The Sea Lamprey Control Program has been highly effective, and Rep. Miller is confident that it will continue to be effective in the face of tightened budgets.”

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hammond Bay Biological Station in Millersburg, Mich. demonstrate sterilization of sea lamprey:

5 thoughts on “Lamprey cuts threaten charter boat captains

  1. Lampreys the worst? One study found alewives wiped out nearly 100% percent of the lake trout recruitment/spawn over 10 years. Alewives kill more fish in a year, than lampreys could kill in a thousand.

  2. The lamprey program is a good program but is typical of a federal way of doing things–throw money at it. There budget and staff has grown enormously and they are now treating streams with few lampreys in them at a tremendous cost. Some stream treatments cost $500,000 and the number and size of the sea lamprey populations can sometimes be minimal. They need to trim the fat. Even employees of the program say they are “swimming in money.”

  3. I agree with Paul and Steve whole-heartedly. I think we need to have a series of “tea parties” on the shores of the lakes that these short sighted folks don’t seem to care about. Preferably during an algal bloom or alewife dyoff.

    Point of clarification from the article. Lamprey are fish albeit primitive ones that are not native to the Great Lakes.

  4. Our Michigan Sportsman network and NRA supported all our Republicans during the campaigns. Now the Republican politicians are coming back to destroy our funding for hunting and fishing programs. We apologize and next time we’ll vote differently to help protect our Great Lakes.

  5. This is another beneficial program among hundreds that will suffer because the Repugs insist on filling the pockets of the filthy rich with tax cuts, subsidies, and special interest programs. A case in point, in 1959 corporations paid 30% of total taxes and individuals paid 55%, in 2009 corporations paid only 6% of taxes and individuals paid 84%. That disparity is probably greater now.

    The fact that the Great Lakes fisheries are worth billions of dollars in economic activity is of no consequence when politicians owe their soul to the company store. Our founding fathers and succeeding enlightened social and political statesmen warned against granting too much power and influence to corporations. We are currently suffering the effects of just that mistake, and we are losing our democracy as a result.

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