“This year is when it seems like things finally started coming together, with anglers in the lake reporting great fishing for both species through the summer,” state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Fisheries Supervisor Bill Schoch said. “In the fall, we got good salmon runs in the rivers, which we haven’t had for more than a decade. ”
The program that is battling the sea lamprey population is called the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative. It consists of representatives from New York, Vermont and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and provides direction for coordinated fish and wildlife programs in the Lake Champlain basin.
Together, the three agencies have been battling sea lampreys for decades, with varying degrees of success. This year, though, things seem to be taking a drastic step in the right direction.
One of the best indicators for measuring the success of the program is the sea lamprey wounding rate, which was done with Atlantic salmon and lake trout.
A sea lamprey attaches to a fish with its teeth-ringed, suction-cup mouth. It files a hole through the fish’s scales and skin, and feeds on the fish’s blood and body fluids. According to the cooperative, the average sea lamprey can destroy up to 40 pounds of fish.
Sampling performed by biologists this fall found 15 wounds per 100 salmon, which was down from 30 per 100 last year.
This marks the first time the management goal of 15 wounds per 100 salmon has been met since the inception of the control program in 1990.
The wounding rate on lake trout was 40 lamprey wounds per 100 lake trout this fall. That was down from 55 last year and 99 in 2006, although it doesn’t reach the wounding rate goal for Lake Champlain of 25 per 100 fish.
With fewer sea lampreys in Lake Champlain, biologists say more lake trout and salmon are now surviving to older ages and larger sizes.
Bill Wellman, of the Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, confirmed anglers have been recording good takes this year.
“My buddies have caught fish up to and over eight-and-a-half pounds in the Saranac (River),” he said. “That’s a healthy-sized Atlantic salmon.”
The salmon run was also strong this year on several rivers, including the Boquet.
“The salmon run at the Willsboro fishway set a new record this year with over 50 fish going up the ladder,” Wellman said. “That’s a new high for that ladder.”
DEC staff count the fish as they manually help them up the ladder, Wellman said.
The main method for controlling the sea lamprey population is by applying lampricides, chemicals that target young sea lamprey. It is put in rivers and deltas where sea lamprey spawn. It is used because it does minimal damage to other fish and wildlife, Schoch said.
“The concentration that will kill 99 percent of the lamprey will kill some other fish, so that you nail the lampreys and you may see mortality of log perch, mud puppies, some other species, but those other species are far from wiped out,” Schoch said. “Even though you kill some, there’s still most of the population that survives, so they rebound quickly with all those survivors.”
New York rivers where lampricide is applied include the Great Chazy, Salmon, Little AuSable, AuSable, Boquet, Poultney, Mill Brook, Mount Hope Brook and Putnam Creek. It is also used at river deltas, including the mouth of the Saranac.
Photo provided by DEC
Sea lampreys have reduced the lake trout and Atlantic salmon populations for decades, but state and federal agencies saw success in combating the parasite this year.