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U.S. and Canadian Wildlife Officials Gang Up to Protect Great Lakes from Invasive Sea Lamprey

Jun 24, 2013 11:56 AM EDT

U.S. and Canadian wildlife officials are ganging up on the invasive sea lamprey with plans to apply lampricides to sections of St. Mary's River, which lies on the border between Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

An important link between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, both governments hope that by depleting the reserves of sea lamprey larvae residing in the tributary, they will be able to prevent the fish from feeding on native species.

The stuff of nightmares, the jawless fish uses a tooth-studded oral disc like a suction cup to attach and feed off its prey's bodily fluids.

All told, a single lamprey is capable of growing between 24 to 30 inches long and can consume anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime. For this reason, they are believed to be the driving force behind the rapid decline of lake trout between the 1940s and 1950s that ultimately led to the extinction of the species in all but Lake Superior, according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS).

Since then, however, the U.S. government has spent more than $400 million in order to cut the fish's numbers by approximately 90 percent, according to the Associated Press, and is considered to be successfully controlled through efforts like those taking place at St. Mary's River between July 1 and Aug. 31.

While lampricides do not pose an "unreasonable" risk to humans or the larger environment, Heather Hettinger, a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, told the AP that people are encouraged to limit their exposure while the treatments are underway.

The program, according to the Soo Evening News, is contracted through the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

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