US Fish and Wildlife crews treating water for sea lampreys in WNY

GOWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Experts with the US Fish and Wildlife Service are in our area treating local waterways to try to kill an aquatic invader.

Sea lamprey larvae have been found in the sediment at the bottom of the Cattaraugus and Canadaway creeks in Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie Counties, and now crews are working to get rid of them.

Sea lampreys are relatively harmless in their larval state, but they have few natural predators, and when they mature, they move to the Great Lakes and become serious parasites. Lampreys have teeth on their tongues, which they use to rasp holes into the sides of fish to suck their blood, eventually killing the host fish. “The sea lampreys destroy all the types of fish that we want, the lake trout, the whitefish, the cisco, salmon, steelhead, anything that they can get,” explained Timothy Sullivan, a treatment supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An adult lamprey can kill 40 pounds of fish every 18 months, resulting in significant damage to the Great Lakes fishery and the multibillion dollar industries that supports. “It’s a $7 billion fishery that we’re trying to protect,” Sullivan said. “There’s over 5 million people each year that fish the Great Lakes so it’s a resource that we’re very concerned about, and without that sea lamprey control, that resource, that fishery would not be there on the Great Lakes.”

To stop the invasive species’ larvae from reaching maturity in our local waterways, US Fish and Wildlife Service personnel are applying lampricides to the water. The chemical, called TFM, was selected after testing of more than 6,000 chemicals as the best candidate to selectively kill the lamprey larvae without hurting a lot of the other species in the area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service crews carefully monitor the water and analyze it in their mobile lab throughout the treatment process to ensure the chemical is at the perfect level to wipe out the lamprey larvae and not much else.

TFM poses no unreasonable risk to the general population and the environment when applied at concentrations necessary to control larval sea lampreys, according to a release from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, the experts note, as with any pesticide, the public is advised to use discretion and minimize unnecessary exposure.

Lampricides are selectively toxic to sea lampreys, but a few fish, insect and broadleaf plants are sensitive. People who are confining bait fish or other organisms in the streams that are being treated are advised to use an alternative water source because the lampricides can kill aquatic organisms stressed by crowding and handling. Agricultural irrigation must be suspended for 24 hours, during and following treatment.

The fight against the invasive sea lampreys in the Great Lakes is a constant battle that requires cooperation from teams in the U.S. and Canada to continue.

The Fish and Wildlife Service says infested waterways must be treated every three to five years with lampricides to control sea lamprey populations.

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