Gene Chague: New efforts underway to eradicate sea lamprey



Many local anglers who fish Lake Ontario, the Salmon River and its tributaries may find the following information interesting. Much of this information was provided by Spider Rybaak, an award-winning outdoor writer.

The sea lamprey is the invasive species responsible for wreaking more havoc on the Great Lakes fisheries than any other. But a new barrier/trap on Orwell Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River, promises to bring this parasite a giant step closer to eradication.

Native to the Atlantic Ocean, these eel-like critters originally invaded the Great Lakes and New York's largest Finger Lakes in the 19th century via the Erie Canal. Armed with a round mouth filled with sharp teeth, they attach themselves to fish and suck out their body fluids. Authorities have been waging war on the parasites for over 50 years.

In the 1950s, untreated discharges from industry and municipalities and the scourge of lampreys all but wiped out the open water species of the Great Lakes. Surviving smallmouth bass, walleyes, perch, lake and rainbow trout were few, sickly and scarred. Adding insult to injury, vast schools of alewives, marine exotics with a high tolerance for pollution, exploded because of the lack of predatory fish to control them. Each spring saw Lake Ontario's shoreline littered with smelly, decomposing windrows of alewives.

Environmental awareness led to such dramatic improvements in water quality that folks began going to the beaches again. They complained of the stinking mess and the authorities began fighting the alewives by stocking voracious trout and salmon, and fighting the lampreys by spreading chemical pesticides specific to lampreys into natal streams during their spawning runs.

The programs worked, eliminating 90 percent of the lamprey population and reducing alewife populations to manageable levels. Using chemicals to control lampreys, though, is expensive and is not always popular. They went to physical barriers.

This June, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the N.Y. DEC officially opened the Orwell Brook Sea Lamprey Barrier. Orwell and Pekin brooks, tributaries to Lake Ontario's Salmon River, produce tens of thousands of sea lamprey larvae annually, and this is the first sea lamprey barrier to be constructed for this purpose by New York State and its Great Lakes fishery partners.

How does it work? Lampreys can't jump. The barrier/trap on Orwell Brook is adjustable. Its aluminum stop logs are removed after the lamprey spawning run, allowing desirable species access to the length of the brook. Come spring, the logs are replaced, blocking lampreys, but not leaping trout and Atlantic salmon.

The sea lamprey trap will be operated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff from mid-March through mid-July each year. To play it safe, the brook will be subject to chemical treatments every three years.


Totally wiping out sea lampreys in a lake almost 200 miles long by 50 miles wide is wishful thinking. But barriers like the one on Orwell Brook will reduce their numbers significantly, improving the health of trout and salmon and benefiting anglers and local economies.


According to MassWildlife Wild Turkey and Upland Game Project Leader David Scarpitti, the spring turkey harvest this past year was about normal for the past several years, coming in at 2,778. The harvest has been between 2,757 and 2,858 over the past five years.

In the Western District specifically, the harvest was "almost identical" to last year. (Last year's total was approximately 535.) In general, he said, the statewide harvest topped out about five years ago, and since has stabilized at that 2,700-2,800 level.


Hard to believe, but the fall hunting seasons are upon us. The early black bear hunting season opens this Tuesday and runs through Sept. 21. A permit is required and only one bear may be harvested.

The bear must be checked in within 48 hours -- either by bringing it to an official check station, or by reporting it online and writing the assigned confirmation number on the tag attached to the bear. Be sure to check the 2013 DFW Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Guide for more information regarding the regulations and on-line check in procedures.


The gray squirrel hunting season in our zone opens on Sept. 9, and runs to January 2, 2014. The daily bag limit is five.

Did you know that the Mepps Fishing Lure Company still recycles squirrel tails? For over 50 years now. On its website (, the company says it needs your squirrel tails to create hand-tied dressed hooks that do a great job catching fish. They claim to have tried hundreds of other materials, both natural and synthetic, and nothing else works as well.

Mepps stresses that it is only interested in recycling tails taken from squirrels that have been harvested for the table. They do not advocate taking squirrels strictly for their tails.

Most folks that send them squirrel tails double their value by trading them for Mepps lures. Hunters get an enjoyable day afield and a delicious stew. Then they send the part they used to throw away (tails) to Mepps to recycle and receive spinning lures in return. Not a bad deal.


The Stockbridge Sportsmen's Club will hold a Firearm Safety Course on Sunday, Sept. 15. This course qualifies for both FID and LTC. Start time is 9 a.m. in the main hall and the course fee is $80. To register, contact Rob McDermott at (413) 232-7700 or


The Lee Sportsmen's Association will be hosting an NRA Personal Protection in the Home course on Monday, Sept. 16 from 6-9 p.m., and on Sunday, Sept. 22 from, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. (both sessions are mandatory). Contact Larry at (413) 442-7807 or email

To reach Gene Chague:,
(413) 637-1818.


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