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Officials say sea lamprey numbers down across Great Lakes

Painting of a boy grabbing a sea lamprey by Mark Heckman.
Painting by Mark Heckman, courtesy of Thunder Bay Press.
Painting of a boy grabbing a sea lamprey by Mark Heckman.

Officials are reporting significant progress in the battle against an invasive, fish-killing Great Lakes parasite.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission says the population of sea lampreys has reached a 30-year low in Lake Huron and a 20-year low in Lake Michigan. 

Numbers also are down in the other lakes, although they remain above target levels in Lakes Superior and Erie.

The sea lamprey is an eel-like creature with a suction-cup mouth that fastens itself to other fish and sucks out their bodily fluids. The average lamprey kills up to 40 pounds of fish.

The fishery commission and other agencies use barriers, traps and a specially devised poison to keep the lamprey population under control.

Spokesman Marc Gaden says increased government funding has enabled agencies to turn the tide.

"We spend about $20 million a year for lamprey control," says Gaden. "The direct benefit of that is about $1 billion a year."

The Great Lakes fishery is worth $7 billion to the United States and Canada, according to Gaden.

Gaden says sea lampreys kill less than 10 million pounds of fish each year in the Great Lakes. That's compared to about 110 million pounds annually before control efforts began.

The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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