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Study Finds Evidence Of Self-Sustaining Lamprey

T. Lawrence
Great Lakes Fishery Commission

A study funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says there is likely a landlocked population of sea lamprey in northern Michigan.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have found evidence of a self-sustaining population in two lakes, Burt and Mullet, above the Cheboygan River lock-and-dam.

This would be an expansion of the invasive predator’s reach.

Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, says there are several things at stake.

“Any expansion of the lamprey populations that we have in the Great Lakes basin means fewer fish for the people of the region. It means fewer fish are going to survive to reproduce,” he says. “It means we’ll continue to suffer economic and ecological harm because of what the lamprey do to the fishery of the Great Lakes region.”

Working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, scientists will be collecting and analyzing data throughout 2014 and 2015 to find out the lamprey’s origins to determine if this population is self-sustaining—one that stays in the lake and river system—or if they got by the lock-and-dam.

The traps associated with the lock-and-dam near the mouth of the Cheboygan River capture more adult sea lampreys than others in the Great Lakes. This landlocked population may have existed for decades unreported.

Lamprey control is successful. The U.S. and Canada currently spends $21 million annually on lamprey control. Population expansion could mean a diversion of resources.

“What it has the potential to mean is the Great Lake Fishery Commission and its partners will have to either spend more resources to control lamprey or—if this turns out to be a problematical population that needs to be controlled—divert the scarce resources we have from control in some areas of the lake to this area,” says Gaden.

The study is in the early stages. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission hopes the fishing community will contribute. If anglers catch fish with lamprey wounds or a lamprey attached, the information will help the study.