Monday, February 20, 2012

Lampreys Suck

As the steelhead splashed along the surface a red circular scar signaled more bad news for the Lake Erie fishery. The scar had been caused by a sea lamprey, one of the first, deadliest and most persistent of invasive species.

Lampreys first arrived in Lake Erie in 1921 courtesy of the Erie and Welland Canal and the parasite has been feasting on fish ever since. A single lamprey can consume 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime and each year a single lamprey can lay 100,000 eggs. Add up the numbers and lamprey can decimate a fishery -- as they did to Lake Trout populations in the last century.

Over the last few years I've noticed more and more of the steelhead have the distinctive circular scar of lampreys. The first two fish I landed on Saturday featured scars. The good news is large steelhead can survive an encounter with a lamprey. The bad news is the lampreys literally suck the life right out of smaller steelies. While fishery biologists have been able to reduce lamprey populations in the other Great Lakes, for some reason the lampreys in Lake Erie seem to be thriving.

Eric Sharp of the Detroit News recently reported on the troubles officials are having putting a dent in the lamprey population in Lake Erie. One irony is that rivers that were once too polluted even for lampreys have been cleaned up so well that they are now havens for the spawning eels. Hopefully the scientists will be able to get one step ahead of the lampreys.

The invasion of the lamprey eels should be more than enough warning to encourage federal officials, particularly our Chicago-based president, to return the Chicago River's flow back to what God intended and prevent the next Great Lakes invader -- the Asian Carp. But it seems that we'd rather repeat history than learn from it.

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