Sea lamprey control efforts in jeopardy


We try to post positive stories on, and there’s no question that photos like this strike a chord for many as they think fondle of their childhood fishing memories or teaching their grandchildren how to fish.

I think it’s important that everyone spend a little time learning about the major threats facing the Great Lakes from Invasive species. Read on for a great feature from IPR’s Peter Payette and a little of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs exploring a new threat from an invasive species we have been able to control until recently, the sea lamprey.
via the Absolute Michigan Hunting & Fishing Guide
Sea Lamprey on fishMichigan Radio has a sobering report on another threat to the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes fishery, the familiar sea lamprey. It takes you inside the work of lamprey control teams and is well worth your consideration.

For fifty years Canada and the U.S. have been battling an eel-like creature across the Great Lakes. Sea lampreys are parasites that drill holes in fish to feed on blood and body fluids. They often kill the fish. The sea lamprey was one of the first invasive species to arrive in the lakes, and it’s the only invasive to be successfully controlled by humans.

But in recent years, the lamprey has been getting the upper hand in the struggle. As Peter Payette reports there might be more setbacks in the near future:

The mouth of a lamprey. It uses suction, teeth, and a razor sharp tongue to attach itself to its prey... and then it starts drinking blood. Photo courtesy of USFWS

The mouth of a lamprey. It uses suction, teeth, and a razor sharp tongue to attach itself to its prey... and then it starts drinking blood. Photo courtesy of USFWS

If you’re on a lamprey control team you get to see all the prettiest streams and rivers in the Great Lakes. That’s because lampreys like clean water.

“Part of our problems recently have been some of the streams that were too dirty to harbor lampreys have been cleaned up and now we have lampreys in parts of the Saginaw River. We never had lampreys in that up until 15 or 20 years ago.”

Ellie Koon supervises one of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife treatment teams. They spend the warm months killing young lampreys by the thousands.

They treat rivers using a chemical called lampricide. It’s a poison that rarely hurts other fish. In fact, during a treatment the fish get a feast they normally wouldn’t. Young lampreys look a bit like worms at this stage and stay in the mud. But when they’re poisoned they swim out where fish can grab them.

Ellie Koon and one of her team members, Hank Cupp, say fish and other animals in the river pig out.

“You can almost hear the fish burping the day after we treat. You can see them swimming around with lampreys hanging out of their mouths that they can’t swallow.”

These teams can usually kill about 95 percent of the young lampreys in a river. Without this, the Great Lakes would not have a multi-billion dollar fishery today. But in recent years, the fish-killing lamprey has been rebounding in some of the lakes and hurting the fishery…

Much more at Michigan Radio. There was an interesting episode of Dirty Jobs last fall where Mike Rowe spent time with the US Fish & Wildlife Service on lamprey control. You can see all the videos at that link and watch one of them below!

Photos via US Government and Wikipedia’s Sea Lamprey entry.