Combating Invasive Species

By Norm Schultz.

The formation of an industry commission to confront the spread of aquatic invasives brings front and center a threat to boating and fishing that for years has been addressed by a patchwork of federal and state initiatives.

The new commission, under the leadership of National Marine Manufacturers Association president Frank Hugelmeyer, aims to bring a stronger focus on invasive species by lobbying the administration and Congress for increased actions that can stop and reverse the spread, which negatively impacts the nation’s $689 billion outdoor recreation industry.

Nowhere is there more pronounced evidence of the danger and damage invasives can trigger than in the Great Lakes. This area alone annually accounts for more than one-third of all marine industry sales and boasts a $7 billion annual fishery, mostly sport fishing. But continued resilience is not assured.

Take the sea lamprey. Native to the Atlantic, the sea lamprey has survived 350 million years in the ocean. In the 1830s, it made its way into Lake Ontario, where until the 1920s the blood-sucking menace was trapped.

That’s when the Welland Canal was created to connect Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. In just 10 years, the voracious sea lamprey was killing native fish in all five Great Lakes.

The lamprey grows to about 18 inches in the Great Lakes and prefers the angler-favorite lake trout, though they will suck the life out of most popular fish, including perch, walleye, steelhead, salmon, sturgeon and bass. It can kill up to 40 pounds of fish during its 12- to 18-month feeding period.