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Great Lakes Article:

Creek to be treated for sea lamprey
John Bartlett
Erie Times News
Posted 10/09/2002


Crooked Creek in western Erie County will soon become a battlefield in the ongoing war against the sea lamprey.

Like an underwater vampire, sea lamprey feed on the body fluids of fish by attaching themselves with a sucking disk and sharp teeth. The sea lamprey often kills the host fish or leaves wounds that lead to its death. A native of the Atlantic Ocean, sea lamprey decimated the lake trout and other fish stocks after reaching the Great Lakes through canal systems.

Crews from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will arrive Wednesday to begin a chemical attack on sea lamprey larvae in Crooked Creek.

Actual treatment of the stream is expected to begin Sunday.

The area to be treated extends from the mouth of the stream to about Springfield Road south of Interstate 90, Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Dennis Lavis said.

The chemical to be used is a lampricide known as TFM. It kills the sea lamprey larvae that live in streambeds until they reach adulthood and migrate to the open waters of the lake and begin feeding on other fish.

TFM is not harmful to humans, birds or mammals when diluted in stream water.

However, the Fish and Wildlife Service is urging people to avoid unnecessary exposure, Lavis said.

Swimming in the stream is discouraged during the 48-hour treatment period. Anglers shouldn't eat fish caught there within 24 hours of treatment.

Road crossings and other entry points to the stream will be posted with notices, he said.

Although TFM is selectively toxic to sea lampreys, a few fish and insect species are sensitive and occasionally die during stream treatment. Sensitive fish include the stonecat, log perch, burbot and bullhead, Lavis said.

Crooked Creek is the only United States stream emptying into Lake Erie that will be treated for sea lamprey this year, Lavis said. It is one of about 50 U.S. streams throughout the Great Lakes that will be treated by the end of the season, he said.

"We have a larva assessment crew that goes around the Great Lakes looking at streams and determining the status of sea lamprey larvae," Lavis said. "We relate that to the cost of treatment and develop a list for treatment that will give us the most bang for our buck. We start at the top of the list and work our way down until we run out of money."

Streams are treated on average of every three to five years.

Crooked Creek was last treated in 1999. Raccoon Creek was treated in 2001 and Conneaut Creek in 2000.

Sea lampreys entered Lake Ontario in the early 1800s, probably through the Erie Canal. By 1921, they had reached Lake Erie through the Welland Canal and quickly spread to the upper Great Lakes. Their introduction devastated lake trout stocks and heavily impacted other fish as well, according to a U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet.

Controlling the sea lamprey population seemed a lost cause until the discovery of TFM (3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol) in the mid-1950s. TFM was first used in the lakes in 1958 when tributaries to Lake Superior, the lake hardest hit by the lamprey, were treated.

For many years, Lake Erie was spared the worst of the impact by sea lamprey. The poor water quality of Lake Erie and its tributaries held them in check. However, once water quality improved in the 1970s and 1980s, sea lamprey populations increased significantly and the negative impact on native fish was soon evident, said Roger Kenyon, a Lake Erie fishery biologist with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

By the mid-1980s, it was clear a lamprey control program was needed for Lake Erie. Lake Erie tributaries began to be treated with TFM in 1986.

The use of TFM is credited with reducing sea lamprey populations throughout the Great Lakes by 90 percent from their historic high, allowing for the resurgence of many other fishes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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