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Invasive lampreys getting too comfortable in Michigan's Inland Waterway?

The mouth of a lamprey. It uses suction, teeth, and a razor sharp tongue to attach itself to its prey.
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A face only its mother could love.

We spend about $21 million a year keeping invasive sea lampreys in check in the Great Lakes.

But they’re resilient creatures. Even after we spend all that money, we still can’t get rid of them.

Scientists now suspect lampreys are getting a little too comfortable up north.

Nick Johnson is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Hammond Bay Biological Station. He says they think there’s a population of lampreys that stays within Michigan’sInland Waterway. It’s a roughly 40 mile chain of lakes and rivers near Cheboygan.

Johnson says in recent years, fishermen have found some lampreys in the lakes nearby.

“The photographs we received showed some pretty gruesome wounds on fish,” he says.

He says at the moment it doesn’t seem like lampreys are killing a lot of fish in the inland waterway. But they want to be sure, because lampreys can be so destructive to the fishery.

“What they would do is probably is take a first stop at Burt Lake or Mullet Lake, attach to a steelhead, northern pike, or walleye, and then they would essentially become vampires and suck the blood out of these fish until they probably would die,” he says.

His team wants to see if there’s a self-sustaining population of lampreys in the Inland Waterway. So they’re doing a two year study to find out.

Got lampreys?

Johnson says they need as many adult lampreys as they can find. So, they want some help.

“We have flyers and ziplock bags at the bait shops around this inland waterway, and we’re asking anglers to grab one and put it in their tackle box in case they come across a sea lamprey,” he says.

He wants you to put that lamprey in the ziplock bag, toss it in the freezer and give him a call (you can find his contact info on the flyer below).

Credit Nick Johnson / USGS
If you find a lamprey in the Inland Waterway, here's who you should call.

More lampreys, more problems 

If there is a new population of lampreys in the Inland Waterway, it could be challenging to deal with it.

Marc Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. His group is in charge of keeping sea lampreys in check.

“There’s not a lot of evidence either way whether these inland populations are harming the fisheries. If there is harm to that, then it’s a serious problem, and any new expansion of its range or any new population means we’ll either have to find new dollars to do that control or divert resources from areas where control already occurs so that we can address this population,” says Gaden.

Gaden says if they weren’t controlling lampreys, they would bounce back pretty quickly. He says lampreys kill about 12 million pounds of fish in the Great Lakes a year – and that’s even with the lamprey control program. He says without a control program, lampreys can kill 100 million pounds of fish a year in the Great Lakes.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.