Bradley A. Young
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Oct. 27, 2020 -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partners are teaming up this week to control sea lamprey in the Lamoille River, a tributary to Lake Champlain in Milton, Vermont. The sea lamprey is a parasitic fish that has severely affected native lake trout and land-locked Atlantic salmon populations in Lake Champlain, and caused the decline of other species such as walleye and lake sturgeon, which are endangered in Vermont.
Sea lamprey control in Lake Champlain is a cooperative effort of the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative that includes the Service, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Cooperative has been controlling sea lamprey in Lake Champlain for more than 30 years, building on efforts to control sea lamprey in the Great Lakes for the last 60 years.
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Cooperative staff will treat the Lamoille River with lampricide, a chemical designed to specifically target the larvae of lampreys in river systems before they develop into parasitic adults.
Bradley Young, a biologist with the Service who manages its sea lamprey control program, said sea lamprey control is essential for restoring Lake Champlain’s native fish populations, fisheries and overall ecosystem.
"Delaying or eliminating treatment of populations of sea lamprey in any tributary to Lake Champlain would likely result in an increase in the sea lamprey population in the lake that wound and kill fish, and it would hamper more than three decades of conservation successes,” Young said.
Notable efforts include:
Restoration of lake trout populations that are showing increasing levels of natural reproduction in the lake;
Restoration of landlocked Atlantic salmon. This includes salmon returning to rivers to spawn with the first documented natural reproduction in the Winooski River in 2016 and Boquet River in 2017 (the first documented natural reproduction in more than 150 years);
Continued efforts to reduce sea lamprey predation on sub-adult and adult lake sturgeon, a state-listed endangered species in Vermont that is also being considered for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act; and
Restoration of fisheries in Lake Champlain valued at more than $200 million annually.
Young said the Cooperative uses an adaptive science-based approach to sea lamprey control. More than 90 percent of the sea lamprey control program efforts relate to assessment and trapping. Based on the results of monitoring and assessments of all tributaries in the Lake Champlain Basin, the Cooperative determines where control is necessary, if there is an effective alternative to chemical control and treats the rivers at the lowest levels that are effective once every four years for a 12-hour period. If there is an effective alternative to chemical control, it is used.
Permit issued for treatment of the Lamoille River
Lampricide is typically applied on a four-year schedule, and the 2020 permit for the Lamoille River recently issued by the state authorizes applications in 2020 and 2024.
Past treatments of the Lamoille River and some other Lake Champlain tributaries have resulted in mortalities of mudpuppies, an aquatic salamander at the northeastern end of its range in Lake Champlain. In issuing the draft permit to treat the Lamoille River, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources reviewed the information on mudpuppy mortalities and determined that there was unlikely to be impacts to the mudpuppy population in the Lamoille River (“an acceptable risk on the non-target environment”). In the same draft permit, they included a special condition requiring the Service to design and conduct a multi-year population study of mudpuppies to gather information for future treatments.
Based on the finding of acceptable risk, including the lack of any documented mudpuppy mortalities during the 2013 treatment of the Lamoille River, the Service determined that this special condition was not warranted and indicated it would not complete the treatment with that condition. The Service also noted that a special condition was not necessary since a standard provision in the permit allows the Secretary to reopen and modify the permit to include different limitations and requirements should there be significant impacts from the control activity that no longer comply with the permit requirements. The Secretary subsequently issued the permit without that special condition.
Young said the Service remains committed to a cooperative sea lamprey control program that is guided by the best available science and that minimizes impact to non-target species.
“Outside of the permit process, we would be willing to cooperate with the Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and others to investigate the feasibility of improved mudpuppy population assessments, should that be warranted,” he said.
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