Video – Study Along Cobourg Creek Helps Improve Trapping Invasive Sea-Lamprey

In Editor Choice, Local

Editor’s Note:The day we met with the group, they discovered a $5,000 piece of their equipment had been stolen after suspect/s cut through a fence.  Out of abundance of caution, we decided to hold the story until the project was completed.

A mixed team of biologists and engineers from Canada and the United States have completed their two month study on invasive sea-lampreys along Cobourg Creek.

The four people worked day and night starting in May and ending in June studying invasive lampreys and working on making a better lamprey traps.

Lamprey are a fish species that look like an eel, but they are a fish and they have gills along the side.

They have a circular mouth with rows of teeth and they have a grasping tongue which is used to grasp on to the fish creating a hole on the side of them so they can eat and feast on the fish.

Watershed Biologist with GRCA, Lindsay Champagne said sea-lamprey are an invasive species that were brought into the Great Lakes through ballast water.

“They have been a nuisance for our fisheries. They are one of the main reasons why Lake Trout populations have collapsed and that has a catastrophic impact on the predator species in the Great Lakes.”

The lamprey weir just north of King Street West in Cobourg Creek was installed in the 1970’s and is one of the ways of stopping lamprey from going further upstream and spawning.

Champagne explained previously GRCA staff would tag the fish (lamprey), release them in Peace Park and would see how many come back (to the lamprey weir).

The process gives people a better population density of how many lamprey are in the Great Lakes.

This year GRCA are just euthanasing them because there is no need to do the estimations.

“On average the total number (of lampreys) we get is between 250 and 300.”

Last year was a record high number with the weir catching 1,300 lamprey over the season which runs from the beginning of April till the middle or end of July.

“The reason there was that influx is because during COVID and the lockdown, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans weren’t able to go out and apply lampricide or run the traps. So the lamprey were able to get upstream and spawn and three years later, they came back and ready to spawn themselves.”

A female lamprey can produce 1,000 to 10,000 if the eggs are fertilized properly.

Champagne said before 2020 with the pandemic which put programs to stop lamprey in lockdown there was a reduction of 90%.

“So it is very beneficial to have these resources and put all of these funds towards programs like this.”

Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan, Aline Cotel told Today’s Northumberland the two month project was funded by the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.

Cotel’s study involved looking at lamprey trap and trying to optimize the design of the trap to be used beyond just monitoring and try to optimize the trapping capacity.

“So we’re looking at understanding the hydrodynamics of the trap entrance and the behaviour of the lamprey.

Using a laser for a optical method to reflect whatever is floating in the water.

“We take a video and the particles are moving at a certain speed and we can calculate that speed.”

“This is fundamental work. We are not redesigning the trap yet, but what we are trying to do is see how lampreys respond to eddies in the flow.”

Deven Nicholson who is a Masters student in the Robert McLaughlin Lab was one of two people from the University of Guelph

“We’re here trying to investigate how lamprey respond to different flow patterns created by various trap types. We have a mesh face trap and a solid face trap and we are looking to see if one or the other influences lamprey behaviour and possibly lamprey entrance rates better.”

Nicholson said the lamprey are caught in the trap north of King Street, then tagged, then placed into a bin in the water in Peace Park. Because lamprey are nocturnal, they are placed back into the water in the evening when it’s dark.

The lamprey’s that are caught in the trap for the weeks following are checked to see if they are the ones that tagged.

Nicholson said that helps because they know which lampreys are making their way upstream.

“We want to know how long it took them to make their way upstream. With the antenna system we set-up around the fish-way it will allow us to see how long they’ve spent searching around the front of the trap, if they entered the trap, if they stayed in the trap or if they left the trap.”

Sea-lamprey are a critical part of the eco-system in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but are bad for the Great Lakes.

“But there are a number of lamprey that are native to this region and are actually beneficial to the environment.”

“We are hoping to help create better traps in order to catch more lamprey before they are able to move upstream to spawn.”

Pete Fisher
Author: Pete Fisher

Has been a photojournalist for over 30-years and have been honoured to win numerous awards for photography and writing over the years. Best selling author for the book Highway of Heroes - True Patriot Love

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