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Aquatic Invasive Species: Sea Lamprey

Aquatic invasive species include plants and animals living in and degrading the quality of our waterways. Species like zebra mussels, bighead and silver carp, and curlyleaf pondweed are changing the dynamics of our underwater habitats. No waterway, from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, is immune to the negative impacts of aquatic invasive species, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, along with many state and federal partners, are continually monitoring these risks.

AIS may live entirely within or partially in an aquatic habitat. Below is a list of some Ohio's top threats. The list is not fully inclusive and the USGS maintains an additional list of AIS in the U.S.

Sea Lamprey

The sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) is a predaceous, eel-like fish with smooth, scaleless skin and two fins on its back. The sea lamprey is parasitic; it feeds on other fish, using its suction disk mouth filled with small sharp, rasping teeth and a file-like tongue. These mouthparts are used by the sea lamprey to attach to a fish, puncture its skin, and drain its body fluids. Adults typically range from one foot to two and a half feet in length.

Native to the Atlantic Ocean coasts, sea lampreys are believed to have originally entered the Great Lakes through the Welland Canal in the 1920’s. They have contributed to the decline of whitefish and lake trout in the Great Lakes. Since the 1950’s, the governments of the United States and Canada have implemented a sea lamprey control program and have had success in reducing the number of non-native lamprey in the lakes, helping the fishery to rebound.

There are three basic and widely used techniques to control the lamprey:

  • Application of lampricide in streams to kill the lamprey larvae
  • Construction of barriers to stop sea lamprey from going upstream to spawn
  • Operation of traps to catch sea lamprey.
  • The average female lamprey can produce 100,000 eggs, making it extremely important to control the non-native lampreys before spawning begins.

The sea lamprey is only one of the seven lamprey species currently found in Ohio. The other six are native to Ohio’s waterways and have little to no effect on the sport fish population.