There is some debate about the origins of the sea lamprey in Lake Champlain. Some call them invasive species, but recently there have been discoveries that may point to this disliked species being more local than previously thought.
Invasive species are plants or animals that are not native to an area, and when introduced become a problem to the original ecosystem. Sea lampreys have been causing some problems in Lake Champlain, but are they invaders or simply a species that has grown out of control?
Let’s Look at the Evidence
Is the sea lamprey invasive species? It had long been believed that the lamprey had entered “Lake Champlain via the Champlain Canal, the Richelieu River and Canal, and over land primarily through human activities such as boating and bait transport” (Lake Champlain Basin Program).
“The sea lamprey was first noted in Lake Champlain in 1929 by J.R. Greeley, who reported that sea lamprey were found in moderate numbers at that time. It is not clear if, or for how long, sea lamprey had existed in Lake Champlain prior to this time.” (NYDEC)
If we take into account that fishing was a major source of food for settlers and natives at the time, and also consider the fact that sea lampreys leave obvious signs of their presence on the local fish – wounds, scars, and attached lamprey – “the lack of mention of lamprey in the oral and written history is consistent with the position that sea lamprey may be a non-native invasive species.” (NYDEC)
New Evidence Points to Native
Some people now believe that the sea lamprey may be a native species leftover from the Champlain Sea (Lake Champlain Basin Program). If this is true, then why have sea lampreys only recently begun to cause problems?
It may be because of:
- “The change in human use of the lands and waters in the lake’s watershed may have resulted in increased habitat for larval lamprey” (NYDEC).
- Also the original Lake Champlain salmon and trout have died out and the foreign strains introduced to stock the lake did not evolve with lamprey, therefore these fish may be more susceptible to sea lamprey parasitism (NYDEC).
Does their origin matter?
Do the lampreys have a right to be in Lake Champlain if they are native?
Native or non-native, are sea lampreys in Lake Champlain causing a major problem? Some believe that if left unchecked other fish populations would be seriously impacted as the parasitic sea lampreys feed on and kill other species–many of which are sought after by anglers.
Organizations from New York and Vermont have collaborated to create a lamprey control program. The program is not trying to exterminate the lampreys, but is trying manage them.
Some environmentalists are concerned that the methods used to control the lampreys are damaging to the ecology of the lake. Some others consider the freedom of the lake’s various species to be greater than the need to for the lake to be an angler’s tourist destination.
What is your opinion?