A proposal to treat more streams with pesticides has added a new question to the long-running argument over sea lamprey control on Lake Champlain: Is lamprey control working – and can it work? Fisheries managers have used pesticides to kill lamprey larvae in 12 streams in Vermont and New York since 2002, a program that costs $1 million to $1.2 million a year. Now they are proposing to expand treatment to the Lamoille River, Mill Brook in New York state and perhaps Otter Creek.
Anglers say lamprey attacks on lake trout and Atlantic salmon appear to have decreased and expanded lamprey control will make the fishing even better.
“Salmon sizes are growing and the lakers are showing improvement. We still have a long way to go, though! I have caught many small lakers with up to three lamprey on them. They are doomed to death,” fisherman Ben Birch wrote recently, urging more control measures.
Conservationists say data show the anglers are wrong – lamprey control isn’t working and the program should be reconsidered.
“Wounding rates of salmon are higher now than before control efforts began in the early 1990s … lake trout fare only somewhat better,” Mollie Matteson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Richmond wrote. “The fact that the sea lamprey poisoning program is faltering should be a warning to take stock of its fundamental assumptions, not a flag to wave on even greater lethal control measures.”
In the short term, the outcome of this disagreement is hardly in doubt.
The states of Vermont and New York, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have committed to reducing lamprey numbers to improve the health of trout and salmon. The proposal to expand chemical treatment to the Lamoille and other rivers is expected to be approved this month.