Sea lamprey surveys ongoing around Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Published: Jun. 25, 2020 at 5:22 PM EDT
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Biologists from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service continue to work to keep the sea lamprey population under control.

We caught up with Fish Biologist, Rebecca Philipps and her colleagues from the US Fish & Wildlife Service Thursday afternoon while they were conducting their survey of Harlow Lake.

Philips says her team found a relatively low number of sea lamprey larvae thus far.

"This system, Harlow has been treated fairly recently for sea lamprey. The whole system was treated in 2018 for sea lamprey larvae," Philipps recalled.

The lampricide treatment is a chemical specifically designed to kill sea lamprey larvae before they leave the waterway and get into Lake Superior.

"One sea lamprey if allowed to leave a system can kill about 60 pounds of fish within its 12 to 18 months it spends in the Great Lakes," Philipps recited.

And that's just one adult sea lamprey.

"This system, Harlow has been shown to have up to 79,000 larvae just in the size of Harlow Creek. And this is a fairly small system compared to a lot of them we work on," Philipps reasoned.

But Philips says this sea lamprey program, a product of the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission has made great strides in keeping the invasive species in check.

"We've definitely knocked the population down quite a bit. All of the Great Lakes are at or below their targets except for Lake Superior. Lake Superior is a little bit high right now. But we're working on bringing that down," Philipps exclaimed.

The eel-like sea lamprey is widely known for its ravenous appetite, preying on a wide variety of fish.

"We saw in the 1950s when populations of sea lamprey were first exploding, pretty much a decimation of the commercial fishery. So if we at this point were not controlling the commercial fishery we have right now, the charter fisheries for salmon, lake trout wouldn’t exist," Philipps declared.

Phillipps says sea lamprey are originally from the Atlantic Ocean generations ago.

“They bypassed Niagara Falls when the Welland Canal was built and then they just swam up and they kept coming. In the early 1930s they were seen in the Lower Lakes like Lake Erie. Then by 1938, they were seen on the west end of Lake Superior. Their populations expounded from there,” Philipps recounted.

Philipps says there’s still quite a bit of work to do in order to keep the sea lamprey in check.

"Yesterday we were up on Torch Lake, near Lake Linden-Hubble area. We were working on Dover Creek. It's got Hungarian Falls on it. We were doing surveys off the mouth of that system and found quite a few sea lamprey,"

Phillipps and other specialists from the US Fish & Wildlife Service still stay busy over the next several weeks conducting similar surveys regionally.

"We are headed to a lot of places. We have crews that'll be working around the Baraga area, on the Ravine, the Silver and the Falls. We have some people who will be on the Sturgeon River to Lake Michigan. Some people will be on some smaller tributaries to Lake Michigan like Marblehead and Paquin Creek. We basically will be covering most of the Upper Peninsula," Philipps announced.

to learn more about the sea lamprey and efforts to keep the species under control.

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