Toby Talbot / AP Photo
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, looks over a sea lamprey control vessel Friday in Burlington. Leahy says Vermont and New York are winning the fight against sea lamprey in Lake Champlain.
BURLINGTON — The rate of wounds from sea lamprey on native fish is down and anglers are catching more trophy fish in Lake Champlain, signs that the chemical treatment of the eel-like species is working, Sen. Patrick Leahy said Friday as he announced a $600,000 appropriation for continued treatment.
This year’s funding for lamprey control from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is down $100,000 from last year but will ensure that the work will continue during budget cuts, said Leahy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“We are really winning the fight on sea lamprey in Lake Champlain,” he said at a news conference on the Burlington waterfront.
The lake is important because fishing alone generates almost $150 million in economic activity for Vermont, according to federal surveys, said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Patrick Berry. Vermont also has the highest participation rates in the lower 48 states for fish- and wildlife-based recreation, he said.
Five or six years ago, the biggest lake trout in the Lake Champlain International fishing derby would be 10 pounds, said James Ehlers, executive director of Lake Champlain International.
This year, 105 lake trout were weighed in at more than 10 pounds, and the largest one set a record for the 32-year history of the event at more than 17 pounds, he said.
“If there was not sea lamprey control, if there was not Sen. Leahy’s willingness to advance a program that at one time was considered controversial, there wouldn’t be fish in there living long enough to get that big,” he said.
Scientists also have a new tool to handle sea lamprey control on the lake.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has acquired a custom-built 26-foot boat that uses state-of-the-art guidance systems and application technology to direct chemical lampricide precisely where it’s needed in river delta habitats and to avoid other areas, officials said.
The new technology saves money and staff time, with the agency able to do twice the amount of work with half the amount of staff and less pesticide, said Bradley Young, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife fish biologist and coordinator of the program.
“With this new technology, everything is computer-driven, satellite-guided. We pretty much could just let the boat drive itself and it applies everything where we need it,” he said.
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