By Howard Meyerson
CHEBOYGAN, MI – Researchers who are studying sea lampreys in the Cheboygan River system are looking for a little help from anglers over the next couple of years. Evidence is mounting that a landlocked population of lampreys exists in the Cheboygan River watershed, which includes the Maple, Sturgeon and Pigeon rivers, along with Burt and Mullet lakes.
Landlocked means the lampreys don’t migrate out to the Great Lakes to feed – in this case Lake Huron. Instead, they emerge from river bottoms where they live as larvae, make their way downstream during their metamorphosis to a blood-sucking parasite, and stop short of Lake Huron, feeding on fish Burt and Mullett lakes before eventually returning upstream to spawn and die.
Federal officials say that phenomenon not only has implications for sport fish that live in those waters, but for the agencies tasked with sea lamprey control. Until recent years it has been assumed that Cheboygan River lamprey migrate out to Lake Huron and return to spawn. The river system has been treated with lampricide for more than 50 years.
Now federal officials are considering other lamprey control options like sealing the Cheboygan dam and locks so lamprey cannot pass, then killing off any residual populations with chemical treatment. It is a move, they say, that could save a great deal of money for treatment, a cost estimated at $1.5 million every three years.
“Lampreys have traditionally lived in those streams and lakes,” said Nick Johnson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hammond Bay Biological Station in Millersburg. “What’s new is they may be stopping for a snack in Burt and Mullet Lake(s) without going out to Lake Huron.
“We want to learn the size and location of the potential landlocked population. If anglers notify us of any (lamprey) wounds they find on steelhead, northern pike, and musky, and send us any lampreys they capture while out fishing, that will help give us more information.” Continue reading