Lamprey control has billion-dollar return

Lamprey control has made catching a Great Lakes fish with a lamprey attached a rare occurrence.

There’s no doubt that, when you compare the fishing in the Great Lakes now and the fishing that was available in the Great Lakes a half century ago, it’s much better now.

Why it’s better is perhaps more difficult to quantify.

People who have worked on improving the water quality for the past decades can point to their successes and say, “We are the reason.”

People who run fish hatcheries that provide fish for Great Lakes anglers can say, “It’s us. If we didn’t crank out millions of baby salmon and trout, what would you fish for?”

Marina developers played a part, boat builders played a part, dam removers played a part. There were many who played a definitive role. That’s why I got a chuckle from a recent claim by Marc Gaden, communications director for the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, about the commission’s efforts to control sea lampreys. Without those efforts he opined, “We would not have the $7 billion fishery we have.”

Perhaps he’s right. Though commercial fishing reeked havoc with Great Lakes predator fish with unregulated gill-netting through the middle part of the 20th century, sea lampreys finished the job and literally overwhelmed the few trout, walleye and other species missed by the netters.

Stock all the fish you want into a lake full of lampreys but don’t expect good results. Remove all the toxins and other pollutants you want, but if lampreys are present, they will simply be swimming in clean water, looking for the 40 pounds of fish each one needs to kill to grow to adulthood.

It’s a good thing the commission continues to fight for the needed funds to continue their war on lampreys. With lamprey numbers reduced by 85% in key areas, it’s easy for the money people to downplay the importance of continued efforts and research into ways to keep a thumb on the slimy water vampires.

Currently, reduction efforts are made by a combination of methods. Some are poisoned, some are trapped, some females are fooled into breeding with sterile males and in other areas, lamprey “dams” are installed to keep adults away from breeding areas in tributary streams.

All of it costs money, but if Gaden is correct, the millions of dollars spent each year for control efforts produce benefits in the billions. That’s a much higher return on investment  than most government expenditures produce.

Categories: Blog Content, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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