Sea lamprey invading Great Lakes

The Great Lakes have a pesky invader: the sea lamprey.

The lamprey is an eel-like fish that is indigenous to the Atlantic Ocean.

The presence of the sea lamprey has proven to be quite a problem for the ecosystems of the Great Lakes, and subsequently the fishery industries in Ontario and the northern United States. In fact, the lamprey is one of the most dangerous predators for the fish populations of the Great Lakes.

One of the lead researchers on the project, Wilfrid Laurier University biology professor Mike Wilkie, explains, “Sea lamprey metamorphose and grow teeth. They attach themselves to the side of the fish and draw all of the blood out.” This can lead to the eradication of entire populations of fish in various rivers and streams.

Two years ago, Wilkie became involved in an extensive study of the sea lamprey; currently he and two biology masters students have been studying the sea lamprey and its reaction to a chemical called trifluoromethyl nitrophenol (TFM).

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, an intergovernmental organization, has taken measures to counter the effects of the sea lamprey. They have begun to use the lethal TFM chemical to kill the population of lamprey in the lakes.

Wilkie describes the chemical as “something that blocks ATP production, which is essential to live.”

Since its introduction to the Great Lakes in the 1950’s, TFM has been successful at diminishing the lamprey population, while having a minimal effect on the rest of the ecosystem.

Still, the program has not been entirely efficacious. The lamprey have not been eradicated entirely, the use of TFN is costly and while the chemical may not be entirely harmful to surrounding organisms, it is still a pollutant.

By studying sea lamprey in all stages of development and monitoring the reaction they had to TFM, Wilkie explains that they “confirmed that TFM does lead to an imbalance in ATP supply and demand.”

Furthermore, they determined that ATP fluctuates within the lamprey at various stages of development.

With a new grant recently acquired from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Wilkie and his students hope to determine at what times of year the distribution of TFM in the Great Lakes will be the most useful at killing of the sea lamprey population by looking at the fuel stores.

The findings of this study will be presented to the commission as well as other governmental agencies, and could potentially offer a more effective, inexpensive and environmentally friendly means by which to deal with the sea lamprey problem in the Great Lakes.