For Immediate Release

Contact: Marc Gaden


June 15, 1995

Great Lakes Fishery Commission Holds Annual Meeting in Toronto

Future of Great Lakes Research, Non-Chemical Lamprey Control Emphasized

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission held its 40th-anniversary annual meeting and executive sessions June 5-9 in Toronto to focus on a wide variety of fishery management issues and to review the year's progress in controlling the sea lamprey. Participants included Commissioners, government officials, sea lamprey control agents, academia, and citizen advisors. The future direction of Great Lakes research, sea lamprey control strategies, ship-ballast water management, and a statement on toxic substances were of particular interest to the participants. The meeting was also a forum for presenting State-of-the-Lake Reports, perspectives on ecosystem management, and reports from the several boards and committees of the Commission.

The Commissioners also used this annual meeting as an opportunity to elect Canadian Commissioner Gail Beggs as new Commission chair. U.S. Commissioner Buzz Besadny's chairmanship expired in early June. U.S. Commissioner Charles Krueger was elected vice-chair.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada James J. Blanchard initiated the meeting with an address on U.S./Canadian cooperation in management of Great Lakes resources. In his address, Ambassador Blanchard praised the United States and Canada for having an enviable level of cooperation when it comes to trade and environmental protection. He pointed out that the Great Lakes support a $3 billion sport fishery and the Great Lakes are vitally important to both countries' manufacturing sectors. He was concerned, however, that anticipated budget cuts would not be based on careful consideration of needs versus resources.

"There is no relationship between two countries that comes even close to the immediate day to day impact that we have between the U.S. and Canada. It is a relationship that supports millions of jobs and helps sustain the very air we breathe and the water we drink. This determination to cooperate isn't just continuing, it is growing, and [the Great Lakes Fishery Commission] is vital to that happening."

Blanchard added that the Great Lakes Fishery Commission "has presided over a very successful lamprey control effort. The Commission's joint strategic plan for the management of the Great Lakes fisheries has really helped pull the states, provinces, and federal governments together to promote this resource."

"There are always threats [to the lakes], and not all of the threats are environmental," Blanchard continued. "My experience in 20 years in public office is that ignorance is the greatest threat. Every year we have to fight to prevent [program] cuts." Blanchard added that Great Lakes programs should not "get caught up in this feeding frenzy over how to dismantle government."

In his opening remarks, Commission Chairman Buzz Besadny drew some comparisons between the Commission today and the Commission in 1956. "In many ways, today's goals are strikingly similar to those identified at the first annual meeting forty years ago. Then, and now, we are focusing on alternate techniques for the control of sea lampreys. We remain steadfast in our continuing efforts at fostering and improving partnerships in fishery management. We continue to rely on sound science as a basis for planning and management. And we are still strongly committed to promoting sustainable use of the Great Lakes fishery."

Great Lakes Research in Jeopardy

Meeting participants were particularly alarmed by proposals in both the United States and Canada to reduce or possibly eliminate funding for key Great Lakes research facilities. In Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (DFO) Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences is targeted for cuts in its research capability due to federal budget cuts and shifts in research and fisheries management priorities. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and the National Biological Service's (NBS) Great Lakes Science Center face similar threats.

During the annual meeting, the Commissioners formally concluded that although some research cuts may be necessary to meet national objectives, any cuts should be made with a sound, long-term research strategy in mind. The Commissioners, therefore, recommended that Great Lakes planners, managers, and scientists help identify priorities for research. In the interim, the Commissioners asked that proposed cuts be minimized.

"The Commission has relied heavily on Fisheries and Oceans Canada and National Biological Service science in discharging its duty to study and advise Canada and the United States on issues affecting the long-term use of the Great Lakes resources," commented Canadian Commissioner Gail Beggs. "While our two nations obviously need to respond to budget problems, unilateral cuts have the potential to undermine gains of the last 40 years in rehabilitating the Great Lakes and its resources."

Great Lakes Fishery Commission Successful in Reducing TFM Use By 20 Percent; Ambitious Goals for Future Reductions Set

The Commission's sea lamprey control program was also a major topic of discussion during the annual meeting. Currently, the Commission, through its U.S. and Canadian agents, uses the chemical lampricide TFM and a variety of non-chemical techniques to control sea lamprey populations. Chairman Besadny noted that although TFM has been indispensable in achieving the current level of sea lamprey suppression, public concern about the use of any chemicals in the aquatic environment compels the Commission to develop alternate control techniques. The Commission, thus, has set an ambitious goal of reducing TFM use by 50 percent by the decade's end.

Reports presented during the annual meeting suggest the Commission is on schedule in meeting its goal of reducing TFM use by 50 percent. Indeed, since the 1980s, the Commission has reduced its TFM use by about 20 percent. Terry Bills of the U.S. National Biological Service noted that Commission efforts to reduce lampricide through more efficient application has greatly reduced the amount of chemical used to treat an area. Vic Gillman of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans described new developments in the use of permanent, electrical, and inflatable sea lamprey barriers and the potential to expand the use of these non-chemical control methods. And Peter Sorenson of the University of Minnesota reported that pheromones may serve as attractants and could improve effective use of non-chemical control methods such as traps.

Said Canadian Commissioner Bill Beamish, chair of the Sea Lamprey Integration Committee (SLIC), "Our new quantitative approach allows the SLIC to recommend the best allocation of limited resources, allowing the Commission to work toward a border-blind, whole-basin approach to delivering the very best program possible. Reducing the amount of [TFM] must not sacrifice achievement or maintenance of sea lamprey suppression targets. Effective trade-offs between lampricide use and alternatives such as barriers can be made if the costs and effectiveness of both methods are carefully considered. Preliminary analyses this past spring, for instance, suggest that we can use barriers to reduce lampricide use and maintain control at the same time."

During the annual meeting's executive session, the Commission approved a proposal to devote more than 30 percent of its lamprey management budget by 1997 to application, research and development of non-chemical control methods. Currently, the Commission allocates about 17 percent of its $12.3 million (U.S. dollars) budget for these purposes.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission Urges Coast Guards to be More Aggressive in Preventing Ballast-Water Hitchhikers

The sea lamprey, of course, is not the only pest species in the Great Lakes. Other exotic species, such as the zebra mussel and ruffe, pose serious threats to the fishery. Ship-ballast water is the most significant vector by which exotic species are introduced. To control ship-ballast water introductions, both the United States and Canadian Coast Guards require oceangoing vessels to exchange or otherwise treat ballast water before entering the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. The recent appearance of juvenile European flounder and Chinese mitten crabs--species that do not reproduce in freshwater--suggests that the ballast control efforts are not entirely effective.

In a response to continued threats posed by exotic species brought into the Great Lakes via ship-ballast water, the Commissioners, in executive session, called upon both the U.S. and Canadian governments to tighten the application of their ballast management programs and to support the development of innovative ballast management technologies. The Commissioners also supported the organization of an International Joint Commission session (to be held on September 25, 1995) on exotic species in the Great Lakes. The Commissioners expressed hope that both governments will focus greater attention on these biological threats and tighten their ballast water management programs.

Commissioners Approve Statement on Toxic Substances

The Commission approved a policy statement on toxic substances in the Great Lakes, calling on state and provincial governments to issue uniform, understandable consumption advisories. "Environmental agencies should disseminate uniform, up-to-date, scientifically based sport-fish consumption advisories that adequately inform consumers, and that identify those groups such as women of child-bearing age, children, anglers, and certain minorities that have been determined to be of highest risk," the statement read. The Commission also called on governments to virtually eliminate the discharge of persistent bioaccumulative toxic chemicals.

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