sea lamprey

Lakes Superior and Erie have too many sea lampreys.

The invasive fish latch onto big fish like lake trout and salmon and drink their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Paul Zybczynski

There’s some bad news in the Great Lakes and it’s all about the sea lamprey, an eel-like creature that literally sucks the life out of fish. They do a lot of damage and now they’re on the rise in some lakes and trend has stumped scientists.

A jar thuds on a table in Helen Domske’s office at the University at Buffalo. It’s a clear, large, one gallon container, just like the ones found in grocery stores, filled with crisp, green, dill pickles.

But, in this case it’s filled with a liquid solution, and a preserved gray corpse of a sea lamprey.

Trying to trap invasive sea lamprey with "eel ladders"

Aug 9, 2017

The sea lamprey is an invasive fish with a round mouth like a suction cup. It latches onto big fish like lake trout and salmon, drills its razor sharp tongue into them, and gets fat drinking their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

We spend about $20 million dollars a year to control lampreys. One of the main ways people do that is with a pesticide, but researchers are working on other ways to control the invasive species.

If you ever get a chance to meet a sea lamprey, you won’t forget it.

They look like an eel but they’re actually a fish. They have a suction cup for a face, with hundreds of razor sharp teeth.

Beginning on Sept. 9, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will start to apply lamprey-killing pesticides into the Muskegon River.

The sea lamprey is a blood-sucking eel-like invasive species living in the Great Lakes. The fish is native to the north Atlantic ocean and got into the Great Lakes around 1920. The numbers proliferated since then.

Michael Twohey is a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He says that the lamprey is devastating to the native fish population.

“They are very efficient fish-eating machines. Each one consumes about 40 pounds of lake trout in its lifetime," says Twohey.

That's why the sea lamprey killing is planned for the Muskegon River system, using a chemical called TFM. Twohey says it's remarkably benign to most other creatures. The chemical will kill the sea lamprey larvae and largely leave everything else intact.

"We just can't have a sustainable fishery without sea lamprey control programs," says Twohey.

*Listen to the interview with Michael Twohey above.