COVID-19 Pandemic May Have Inadvertently Opened the Door for Sea Lamprey
The Great Lakes will see a rise in the evasive sea lamprey over the next couple of years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evasive Species in the Great Lakes
The sea lamprey is one of the Great Lakes' evasive species but there are more including dreissenid mussels, spiny water flea, alewife, and round gobies. Overfishing and pollution are also a problem but the group of evasive species is responsible for wiping out 18 fish species in one Great Lake alone.
How COVID-19 Pandemic is Affecting the Great Lakes
The COVID-19 virus did not directly impact the fish in the Great Lakes but the pandemic as a whole has and will over the next couple of years. During the pandemic, the United States and Canada had to shut down their borders for almost a year straight. You are probably thinking, 'what do borders have to do with fish?' Not much other than it didn't allow for all the areas of the Great Lakes to be properly treated for sea lamprey.
WOOD reported the Great Lakes Fishery Commission legislative liaison Marc Gaden says the GLFC performed 35% of its scheduled lampricide treatments in 2020 and 75% in 2021.
What is a Sea Lamprey?
Sea lamprey is originally from the Atlantic Ocean. Over time they migrated to Lake Ontario, Niagra Falls, and now all of the Great Lakes. Lamprey was first discovered in the Great Lakes in 1936 and by 1950 became a serious problem to the ecosystem.
The life of sea lamprey starts in streams and rivers like the Muskegon, Grand, and Manistee rivers. They feed on plankton and detritus for 3 to 10 years before moving to the Great Lakes. Once in a Great Lake, they find a host fish to feed on for a year to a year and a half before heading back upstream to spawn. They die after spawning. Lamprey prey on lake trout and whitefish but will also feed on walleye, steelhead, and yellow perch.
Impact of Sea Lamprey
Untreated, sea lamprey could wipe out commercial and sport fishing altogether. Their feasting on game fish is a huge problem and could lead to wiping out an entire species of fish.
The Great Lakes Fishery Commission fears the treatments that didn't happen in the past two years could cause more lampreys to breed, make their way to the Great Lakes, and feast on fish which would be detrimental to fishing.