Lake Huron Committee

For Immediate Release

Contact: Marc Gaden

April 8, 1997

313-662-3209 ext. 14

Lake Huron Committee Endorses Plan to Control St. Marys River Sea Lampreys

Plan calls for combination of lampricide treatments, trapping and sterile-male-release; Lamprey reduction of at least 85% projected for Lake Huron

ANN ARBOR, Ml – The burgeoning problem of sea lampreys produced in the St. Marys River could bring the Lake Huron fishery to the brink of collapse unless a control program is implemented. Fishery managers from Michigan, Ontario, and the tribes issued this warning during a recent meeting of the Lake Huron Committee in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Fortunately, the committee noted, successful management of this last remaining uncontrolled population of Great Lakes sea lampreys is in reach. To combat the problem, the committee endorsed an option developed by sea lamprey control biologists that will combine lampricide treatments, trapping, and the sterile-male-release-technique. Pending approval by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, this control strategy should reduce sea lamprey populations in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan by at least 85%. Such a reduction in sea lampreys will allow for the resumption of lake trout stocking in Lake Huron and for the implementation of other fishery rehabilitation efforts. The committee recognized, however, that the St. Marys River control plan might not be implemented without additional funds or program trade-offs.

The St. Marys River—which connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron—produces more sea lampreys than all of the other Great Lakes combined. The lampreys migrate into Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan where they prey on fish and severely reduce opportunities for tribal, recreational, and commercial fishing. Lampreys are nearly as abundant in Lake Huron today as they were in the 1950s, before sea lamprey control began, and when lake trout and whitefish were decimated. The situation is so severe that Ontario, Michigan, and the tribes stopped some stocking programs in 1994 and postponed their efforts to restore and enhance fish populations in northern Lake Huron.

Cost-effective sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River was once thought to be impossible because of the size of the river and because of the widespread distribution of sea lamprey larvae. But now, thanks to a strong research and assessment effort by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s sea lamprey control agents, an effective control program is within reach. The recent application of state-of-the-art assessment and modeling technologies have mapped the locations and densities of larval sea lampreys in the St. Marys River and predicted their vulnerability to control. These efforts, and the development of a new bottom formulation of the lampricide granular Bayer, have provided the tools to accurately target concentrations of larval sea lampreys and to effect a significant level of control at the least possible cost. Combined with trapping and the release of sterilized male sea lampreys, delivery of a cost-effective, environmentally safe program of integrated pest management on the St. Marys River is now possible.

"We cannot continue to allow sea lampreys to have free reign in Lake Huron," commented Lake Huron Committee Chairman Tom Gorenflo of the Chippewa-Ottawa Treaty Fishery Management Authority. "If we do, we are giving up on Lake Huron and accepting the fact that restoration of its fishery will not be possible. After years of careful assessment and innovative development of control techniques, we are ready to address the problem. The committee's recommendation to continue lake trout stocking and rehabilitation efforts—pending St. Marys River sea lamprey control—means that we can once again be optimistic about the future of Lake Huron."

Despite the ability to implement a St. Marys River control program, tight budgets might stall the effort. Said Lake Huron Committee member John Schrouder of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources: "We certainly recognize that a St. Marys River control strategy poses a serious dilemma for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. On the one hand, sea lamprey control in all areas of the Great Lakes must continue if we are to protect the gains we have made and improve the fishery for the future. At the same time, it is vital to the health of Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan that sea lampreys from the St. Marys River be controlled. At the current level of funding, the commission will be hard-pressed to implement an effective control effort on the St. Marys River without taking resources away from other program areas. However, we cannot continue to allow the destruction of the Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan fisheries nor allow the loss of remnant native fish stocks."

It is estimated that the proposed St. Marys River control program—relying on the application of granular Bayer, on trapping and on the sterile-male-release-technique—will cost an additional $1 million per year. Under the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, the governments of the United States and Canada together contribute about $12 million a year to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission for sea lamprey control, research, and other activities.

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