For Immediate Release

April 18, 1997

Contact: Marc Gaden

313-662-3209 ext. 14



Increasing Sea Lamprey Control Needs

Could Endanger Major Restoration Successes in Lake Superior

ANN ARBOR, MI — Lake trout restoration in large areas of Lake Superior is now a reality, though gains could be threatened if adequate sea lamprey control is not maintained. Members of the Lake Superior Committee issued this caution during their recent annual meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where fishery managers from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, the Chippewa-Ottawa Treaty Fishery Management Authority, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission gathered to focus attention on the state of the Lake Superior fishery. The committee expressed excitement about the success of lake trout rehabilitation in Lake Superior, noting that sea lamprey control is largely responsible. However, a proposal to control sea lampreys in the St. Marys River, though supported by the Lake Superior Committee, may jeopardize major fishery rehabilitation gains by causing a redirection of scarce resources from existing sea lamprey control program areas to the St. Marys River.

Overfishing and lamprey predation in the middle part of this century drove lake trout—an important native predator in the Great Lakes—to near extinction. In 1996, after years of careful rehabilitation efforts by state, provincial, tribal, and federal agencies, the Lake Superior Committee proclaimed a major victory for the fishery: lake trout are again self-sustaining in large areas of Lake Superior. With the return of self-sustaining lake trout populations, Lake Superior fishery management authorities agreed to stop stocking U.S. federally-reared lake trout in areas of the lake extending from the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin eastward to Grand Marias, Michigan. (Stocking continues in other areas of Lake Superior because natural reproduction has not yet taken hold at a level that would likely allow self-sustainability.) Fishery managers credit the success of lake trout restoration in Lake Superior to coordinated stocking programs, harvest limits, water quality improvements, and a 90% reduction in sea lamprey populations.

Rehabilitation of the Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan fisheries, however, has not been as successful as in Lake Superior. Sea lampreys remain a serious problem in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan due to high levels of lamprey production in the St. Marys River—the connecting channel between Lakes Superior and Huron. During its meeting, the Lake Superior Committee agreed with the Lake Huron Committee that sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River is a top priority, not only for the benefit of Lakes Huron and Michigan, but also because it will help reduce the migration of sea lampreys into Lake Superior.

Cost-effective sea lamprey control on the St. Marys, once thought to be impossible, may now be within reach because of a special program developed by biologists and research scientists working under the direction of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The program proposes to combine the granular Bayer lampricide with trapping and the Sterile-Male-Release-Technique to achieve an 85% reduction in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan sea lampreys.

The Lake Superior Committee concurred with the proposed program and offered to redirect some sterile male lampreys now used as a control method in Lake Superior to the St. Marys River effort. The committee expects that only excess sterile males will be redirected to the St. Marys River, that arrangements with tribal governments will be honored, and that studies to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Sterile-Male-Release-Technique in Lake Superior will be continued.

"The Lake Superior Committee is very pleased to see that the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is committed to sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River," commented Committee Chairman Bill Horns of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. "In Lake Superior, we know first hand how quickly sea lampreys can destroy a fishery. Based on the success of lake trout rehabilitation in Lake Superior, we also know that sea lamprey control is a vital prerequisite to fishery rehabilitation. We hope that a St. Marys River control program will help Lake Huron and Lake Michigan experience real advances in fishery rehabilitation, and will help stem the migration of sea lampreys upstream into Lake Superior."

The St. Marys River control program is expected to cost an additional $1 million per year, starting in 1998, though overall funding for Great Lakes sea lamprey control is expected to remain constant in 1998. Committee members voiced concern that without new dollars there could be a redirection of sea lamprey control funds from other lakes—including Lake Superior—to the St. Marys River. Said Bob Thomson of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, "We must view Lake Superior lake trout restoration as an investment in today’s fishery and in the fishery that future generations will enjoy. To protect that investment, it is imperative that we not allow sea lampreys to re-gain the upper hand in Lake Superior. I hope that the governments of the United States and Canada will find the resources necessary to control sea lampreys in the St. Marys River. It would be a shame if success in the St. Marys River came at the expense of the other Great Lakes."

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