Letter to the Editor
September 2, 1997
Recently, Governor Engler proposed—and the Michigan Legislature approved—a budget for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which included funds for sea lamprey control. As Chairman of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission—the U.S. and Canadian agency charged with controlling sea lampreys in the Great Lakes—I am writing to explain just how important sea lamprey control is to the valuable Great Lakes fishery and how important Michigan’s contribution is to the control effort.
Sea lampreys, which are native to the Atlantic Ocean, invaded the Great Lakes through shipping canals in the early part of this century. The sea lamprey’s impact on the fishery was devastating: nearly 85% of the fish in the Great Lakes exhibited sea lamprey wounds, and harvest, which had been about 17 million pounds of fish annually, collapsed. The once-thriving Great Lakes fishery was devastated to the point that lake trout—the historically dominant species in the Great Lakes—was driven to near extinction.
Fortunately, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and its agents keep sea lamprey populations to about 10 percent of their historical abundance through a program that uses a selective pesticide, traps, weirs, and the release of sterile males. Put another way, that is a 90 percent reduction in sea lampreys; a remarkable success. Sea lamprey control remains the backbone of sound management of the Great Lakes fishery. Management agencies rely on this control to support their fish stocking and rehabilitation programs.
The more than 5 million people who fish the Great Lakes recreationally and commercially demand the delivery of an effective sea lamprey control program to protect the fishery, now worth up to $4 billion annually to the region. Indeed, Michigan anglers (who established a special sea lamprey funding task force last year, currently headed by a former Michigan fish chief), the Michigan Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, citizen advisors to the commission, and many others, are united in recognizing the importance of maintaining sea lamprey control.
The news on sea lamprey control, however, is not all positive. Efforts to control lampreys must be ongoing because lampreys, like a coiled spring, will bounce back the moment controls are relaxed.
Further, the St. Marys River currently produces more lampreys than all of the other Great Lakes combined. The sea lampreys migrate into Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and prey in large numbers on fish. We are now observing lamprey wounding rates in Lakes Huron and Michigan similar to those seen forty years ago, before sea lamprey control began in the Great Lakes. Because of the St. Marys River problem, agencies ceased stocking fish in some areas of Lake Huron and they are unable to move forward in their efforts to restore fish communities and the fisheries they support.
Cost-effective sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River was once thought to be impossible because of the large size of the river and because of the widespread distribution of sea lamprey larvae within the river. But now, thanks to a strong research and assessment effort, an effective control program is within reach. This assessment effort has provided the tools to accurately target concentrations of larval sea lampreys and to effect a significant level of control at the least possible cost.
Michigan’s contribution to sea lamprey control could not have come at a better time. The funds will allow us to make great strides in addressing the St. Marys River problem without jeopardizing sea lamprey control in the other Great Lakes. It will allow us to move forward in our effort to restore the Lake Huron and Lake Michigan fisheries from their present state of collapse back to their previous splendor.
Michigan’s contribution, though welcomed and significant, still falls short of what is necessary to conduct a full St. Marys River treatment. Michigan has made it clear that its contribution to sea lamprey control is a supplement to federal funding, and should therefore be viewed as a challenge to the federal governments to provide funding necessary to conduct sea lamprey control. Indeed, sea lamprey control—pursuant to a 1955 treaty—has always been the responsibility of the U.S. and Canadian Federal governments. In that light, Michigan’s contribution is all the more significant; it is the first time a non-federal entity has stepped up to the plate to do something about the very serious sea lamprey problem in the Great Lakes.
Investments in sea lamprey control are investments not only in today’s fishery but also are investments in the fishery that future generations will enjoy. Unlike other exotic species such as zebra mussels and ruffe, we are fortunate to have the technology to control sea lampreys. Thanks to Michigan and thanks to an on-going commitment from the federal governments of Canada and the United States, we also have the political will to continue this effort. It is imperative to the fishery that the governments maintain their commitment to sea lamprey control.
Charles C. Krueger
Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Great Lakes Fishery Commission Press Contact: Marc Gaden, Communications Officer 313-662-3209 x 14