Trail Creek barrier shields Lake Michigan from ‘disaster’

The Times of Northwest Indiana

April 20, 2012

MICHIGAN CITY | One invasive species that has plagued Lake Michigan for years is less likely to continue to spread locally.

Close to 50 people, including science students from the nearby Krueger Middle School, gathered in a frigid downpour at Trail Creek and Springland Avenue on Friday morning for the dedication of the sea lamprey barrier.

The Trail Creek barrier was constructed through a partnership between the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The barrier will work to reduce the sea lamprey population in two ways – by preventing them from moving to spawning areas thereby reducing the population over time and trapping them. The barrier allows favorable fish to swim through or jump over it and pass between the creek and the lake.

“Sea lamprey have been a disaster for Lake Michigan,” said Bill James, chief of fisheries for the IDNR and a member of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. “Sea lamprey really changed the way of life for Great Lakes fisheries.”

Sea lamprey are native to the Atlantic but arrived in the Great Lakes 76 years ago via seaways. The parasitic, eel-like fish attaches its round, sucker mouth rimmed with teeth to healthy fish and sucks the fluids from them.

One sea lamprey can destroy more than 40 pounds of Great Lakes fish during its lifetime.

Sea lamprey have no predators in the Great Lakes and nearly destroyed regional fisheries in the 1960s. Applications of lampricides and the construction of barriers in tributaries have helped slow their progression, James said, but there is more to be done.

James said Great Lakes fisheries are a $7 billion industry in the U.S. and Canada that are threatened by the sea lamprey.

Jake Van Effen, biological science technician for the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, presented James with the first wriggling lamprey caught in the trap to the shrieks of the middle school students gathered for the event.

Charlie Wooley, deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said his agency will operate and maintain the barrier.

In the past 40 years, Trail Creek has been treated eight times with a lampricide to try to keep the sea lamprey from entering Lake Michigan. Wooley said each application cost $150,000.

“We won’t have to do that anymore and we’ll be able to use those resources elsewhere in the Great Lakes to help control the sea lamprey,” Wooley said.