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Celebrating 60 Years of Successful Sea Lamprey Control, Science, and Cross-Border Collaboration!

In 2015, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is excited to celebrate two momentous occasions in Great Lakes fishery management and restoration: the 60th anniversary of the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, which finally ended parochialism in fisheries, and the 50th anniversary of the commission's lake committees, which ensure collaboration across borders.

The convention created the commission and tasked it with controlling the destructive sea lamprey, leading research for fishery rehabilitation, and forging cross-border collaboration that, for more than a century, was missing in the Great Lakes, much to the detriment of the fish and the people who depended on them for income, recreation, and subsistence.

Sea Lamprey Control

The commission's sea lamprey control program has, without a doubt, been a critical part of the basin-wide effort to restore the fishery - and economy - after the devastation wrecked by the sea lamprey invasion in the mid-1920s and 1930s. Over the previous sixty years, the commission and its partners have been able to reduce sea lamprey populations by 90% in most areas of the Great Lakes - a remarkable success! Why is sea lamprey control important? Because before sea lamprey control, lampreys destroyed 103 million pounds of fish to lamprey ; but today, because of the control program, that number has been reduced to around 10 million pounds. The commission strives to further reduce sea lamprey populations for the benefit of native fish recovery and the $7 billion fishery.

Research

Sound science is, and will remain, the foundation of all commission activities. The commission's research program focuses on three key areas: fishery research, sea lamprey research, and science transfer (the latter aims to communicate research to those who will apply it). The fishery research program has supported myriad projects that have examined the interconnectedness of Great Lakes fish populations, demonstrated their vulnerability to various human-induced and natural changes, and confirmed that restoring native species - particularly predatory fish - will bring a more natural balance to the ecosystem. The sea lamprey research program, through innovative research, has developed alternative control techniques such as barriers and traps, which are now essential components of the integrated control program, and are used in conjunction with lampricides, the workhorses of the program. The commission is investing significantly into the development and implementation of pheromones - natural odors used by lampreys to communicate - and the application of knowledge gained from mapping the sea lamprey genome, both of which hold considerable promise for the future of control.

Fishery Management

Today, fishery management on the Great Lakes is more cooperative than ever. Through the non-binding agreement, A Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries, the fishery management agencies of the Great Lakes - eight states, one province, three U.S. intertribal agencies, and several federal agencies - have committed to manage the fishery through collaboration, consensus, strategic planning, and ecosystem-based management. The plan, which uses the commission's lake committees as "action arms," allows agencies to leverage resources, avoid duplication of effort, develop shared objectives, and exchange valuable data. The result is one of the world's finest examples of transboundary cooperation. The commission is committed to continuing its work with partners and stakeholders to build upon the existing relationships that make the Great Lakes fishery management community functional, collaborative, and successful.

As the commission reflects on its 60th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the lake committees, the prevailing theme that continues to emerge is a strong desire to sustain past successes while continuing to adapt to the many changes that inevitably will occur on the Great Lakes. The commission's guiding principles, the effective governing institutions already in place, and the solid foundation of cooperation built over six decades, leaves the fish community ready and able to tackle the challenges of the future.

1956 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries signatories

Signatories of the 1956 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, which created the Great Lakes Fishery Commission Photo: GLFC

sea lamprey, mouth, wounds

Sea lampreys use their large oral sucking disk filled with sharp, horn-shaped teeth surrounding a razor sharp rasping tongue to securely attach to a fish, rasp through the fish's scales and skin, and feed on the fish's body fluids. Photos: GLFC

white fish

lake trout

Lake trout and whitefish, two key native species of the Great Lakes, were hit particularly hard by the sea lamprey invasion. Re-establishment of native fishes has been, and will continue to be, a top research priority for the fishery research program. Photos: P. Vescei

1964 Great Lakes Fishery Commission interim meeting

TOP: The 1964 interim meeting of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. It was at this meeting that the lake committee were first formed.
BOTTOM: Participants at the 50th anniversary celebration of the lake committees. Photos: GLFC

Lake Committees 50th anniversary