Blog entries / Fisheries / Invasive species

A holistic approach to sea lamprey control

Congratulations to Brad Young of the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Resources Office, who on Wednesday was presented the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s award for outstanding contributions to sea lamprey control: the Vernon C.  Applegate award

A white man with short brown hair and a blue shirt stands before some green leaves

Brad Young’s work in the Great Lakes led to better understanding of how pheromones could be used to control sea lampreys. Credit: USFWS

Brad, a supervisory fish biologist, leads a staff of 6-12 biologists who work to control sea lamprey on Lake Champlain so that native lake trout and landlocked Atlantic salmon can be restored. The award recognized this significant role as well as Brad’s previous work in the Great Lakes.

“Brad takes a holistic approach to sea lamprey control . . . he uses the best science available and manages a top-notch staff such that Lake Champlain has seen marked declines in sea lamprey abundances,” said Bob Lambe, vice-chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and director of the Canada-Ontario Invasive Species Centre.

One of the tools Brad skillfully uses both on and off the job is public outreach.

“Brad understands that personal contacts and good relationships are essential to success,” Bob said.

Sea lampreys are aquatic vertebrates native to the Atlantic Ocean. They look like eels, but unlike eels, they feed on large fish. They can live in both salt and fresh water. Sea lampreys were accidentally introduced into the Great Lakes in the early 20th century through shipping canals — Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Today we hear from Brad about his work.

Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: Watching my staff succeed and seeing them take pride in their work. 

Part of me really misses doing regular field work, but I now live vicariously through the amazing staff I have and get plenty of satisfaction from seeing them enthused about the accomplishing our shared goals.

A man shows children sea lamprey educational materials

“Brad engages the public directly and shares his passion with fellow lake and fishing enthusiasts,” said Bob Lambe at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission awards ceremony in Montreal. Credit: USFWS

Q: What would you like people to know about the work you do?
A: Our program works to restore the native trout and salmon fishery of Lake Champlain, by controlling sea lamprey.

Sea lamprey control is a means to our end, not our singular focus. We are fish biologists, not exterminators.

Q: You were recently on the Animal Planet’s “Vampires of the Deep” episode of River Monsters. What was that like?
A. We spent many hours with the crew of River Monsters to get them footage for their show.  They couldn’t have been nicer and more gracious. 

The star of the show, Jeremy Wade, was down-to-earth and a pleasure to work with. While the show wasn’t a documentary on what we do, I think it served well to highlight the lake, its fishery, and the how important it is to continue our lamprey control efforts.

Any time we can bring attention to our program, it helps with public visibility and support.

A man with a white shirt, blue jeans and a white ball cap stands next to a cooler and behind a bucket, both filled with lampreys. In the background is a body of water with a small dam.

University of Vermont graduate student Eric Howe (left) collects sea lampreys with Brad. Brad’s leadership has greatly contributed to declines of lamprey in Lake Champlain. Credit: Wayne Bouffard/USFWS

Q: What’s your vision for the future?
A: Our program has succeeded over the last six years by decreasing the lamprey population of Lake Champlain by about 60 percent. 

We continue to find ways to improve our efforts and look to bring the population to an even lower level.

Three men in waders stand on a small spillway before water

Left to right: Brad, Anthony Curtis, and Jeremy Wade  on the set of River Monsters. Credit: USFWS

2 thoughts on “A holistic approach to sea lamprey control

  1. This blog post includes a misleading quote from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission regarding the introduction of the sea lamprey to the Great Lakes. However, the article is primarily about the work of Mr. Young conducting sea lamprey control in Lake Champlain. And the status of sea lamprey in Lake Champlain has long been in dispute. A 2006 paper by Waldman et al. (Evaluation of the Native Status of Sea Lampreys in Lake Champlain Based on Mitochondrial DNA Sequencing Analysis, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 135: 1076-1085), provides genetic evidence that “sea lampreys are native to Lake Champlain, having colonized the lake post glacially by one of several zoogeographic corridors.” The FWS has yet to investigate and analyze the impact of heavily exploiting and reducing the population of a native species in Lake Champlain, nor has it attempted to get at the root causes of why sea lamprey are “out of balance” in the Lake with its prey–if that is even true. It needs to be pointed out further that neither the Atlantic salmon nor lake trout stock FWS is trying to “restore” are the original stock from Lake Champlain. Those were wiped out by 1900.

    • Thanks for your comment, Mollie. Sea lamprey have inhabited the planet for 350-400 million years, and Lake Champlain has existed for the last 12,000 years. Thus, sea lamprey are native to the Atlantic, and whether or not they colonized Lake Champlain 12,000 years ago or 100 years ago does not change that.

      Regardless, restoring and sustaining healthy lake trout and salmon populations to the Lake Champlain watershed and subsequently providing the societal benefits that result from those species require the control of sea lamprey populations. Unfortunately, in the face of habitat losses due to dams and other impacts to salmonid habitat, there is little chance that healthy lake trout and salmon populations can be sustained without controlling sea lamprey populations.

      You’re correct that we are not using native strains of salmon or lake trout. Native Champlain strains are not available, so we are using strains that we have tested and selected as a best fit to restore the aquatic community to this lake.

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