For Immediate Release

Contact: Marc Gaden


April 4, 1996

St. Marys River Lamprey Control Key to the Health of the Lake Huron Fishery

Lamprey Control Funding Reductions Jeopardize Management Effectiveness and Fish Community Stability on Lake Huron

Canadian funding cuts may threaten the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's ability to begin sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River, warned fishery managers from Michigan, the Province of Ontario, and the Tribes during a recent meeting of the Lake Huron Committee in Duluth, Minnesota. Lamprey control on the St. Marys River is pivotal to the health of the Lake Huron fish community, because the river harbors large numbers of sea lamprey larvae and is the largest single source of sea lampreys in the Great Lakes. Without St. Marys River lamprey control, the health of fish stocks and collaborative, binational restoration programs in Lake Huron are jeopardized. The Committee members noted that the cut could not have come at a worse time because the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is on the verge of implementing a St. Marys River lamprey control program after years of careful assessment and planning.

Populations of spawning-phase sea lampreys in northern Lake Huron are estimated to be greater than that of all the other Great Lakes combined. The population of sea lampreys is nearly as large as it was before any treatment efforts, when populations of lake trout and whitefish were decimated. Today, up to 45% of trout and salmon in Lake Huron exhibit wounds and scars from sea lamprey attacks. This year, 29% of lake trout in northern Lake Michigan were also reported to be recently preyed upon by sea lampreys from the St. Marys River.

Until recently, cost-effective lamprey control on the St. Marys River had not been possible because of the size of the river and because of the widespread distribution of lamprey larvae. Recent state-of-the-art mapping and assessment efforts, however, have provided new insights into the locations and densities of larval lamprey.. A newly developed model suggests the possibility of targeting concentrations of larval lampreys in the river.

This summer, the Commission's sea lamprey control agents plan to take a large step in their evaluation of the best approach to large-scale lamprey control on the St. Marys River. Managers and scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission will undertake a St. Marys River dye study to confirm their understanding about how lampricides would move in the river. Agents hope to couple the data gathered from the dye study with the larval density data to determine the best way to apply lampricides in the St. Marys River. Lampricide treatment is scheduled to begin in 1997.

"For the first time, we are close to reducing the flow of lampreys from the St. Marys River into Lake Huron," commented Lake Huron Committee Vice-Chair Ron DesJardine of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. "We must now move forward with an aggressive effort to treat the St. Marys River for sea lampreys. A St. Marys River treatment will allow us to get on with our work to restore and to sustain the Lake Huron fishery."

Lake Huron Committee members, however, questioned whether the St. Marys River treatment will ever happen in light of the recent decision by Canada to reduce its funding for lamprey control by 26% (about $1 million US) in 1996/1997. The Committee members expressed alarm over the severity of the funding reduction, and expressed concern that the Commission might be hard-pressed to find resources for the new St. Marys River treatment while still maintaining effective lamprey control in the other Great Lakes.

Lake Huron Committee Chairman Tom Gorenflo, Director of the Chippewa and Ottawa Treaty Fishery Management Authority, expressed the Committee's sentiment: "Budget reductions are particularly disappointing now, considering we are poised to deal effectively with the St. Marys River sea lamprey problem. Until sea lamprey populations in the St. Marys River can be reduced, no fishery management authority can move forward comfortably with fishery management or restoration plans in Lake Huron. The high lamprey populations from the St. Marys River make lake trout restoration nearly impossible and add tremendous instability to the Lake Huron fish community."

Lake Huron Committee member John Schrouder of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources added: "People who rely on the sport and commercial fishery for recreation and income are very concerned about the Canadian government's apparent move away from its commitment to sea lamprey control. It is my understanding that the Lake Huron Committee and the many user groups in both countries will continue to voice their concerns to the Canadian government."

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