Chair’s Address
to the 
45th Annual Meeting
of the
Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Burton Ayles, Chair

Vision, Innovation, and Hard Work Highlight the 1990s


Commissioners, advisors, board and committee members, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 45th Annual Meeting of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. 

We extend a very special thank you to David Lonsdale and the folks at the Duluth Aquarium for hosting that wonderful reception last evening! I think we all agree that the new aquarium will be another pillar to the attractions Duluth has to offer. We are thrilled to have been one of the first groups to visit the aquarium and see the new exhibits.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of the commission’s secretariat. As chairman of the commission, and throughout my tenure as commissioner, it has been a privilege to work with this group of professionals. Despite its small size, the secretariat manages to support—extremely effectively—the work of the commission, the lake committees, various GLFC boards and committees, and agent activities, often under extreme time pressures. We appreciate the work that you do for the fishery.

A New Decade

The coming of the year 2000 provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our work over the past decade and to consider our vision of the future. The program of the 1990s began with the development and publication of the commission’s Strategic Vision for the Decade of the 1990s which has been the set of principles that guides the commission’s decision making process.

The Vision is organized around three broad statements that outline goals for sea lamprey control, healthy ecosystems, and partnerships. 

The vision—as its full title implies—was written to guide us through the 1990s. As the 1990s are now past, and as we continue with our revision of the Vision, it is appropriate to reflect on how we did in fulfilling the vision of the 1990s and to discuss where the future vision is heading. 


There is no doubt that the 1990s were turbulent for the commission with respect to funding. Throughout most of decade, when the commission was not faced with budget cuts, stagnant funding threatened the program’s ability to even keep up with inflation, not to mention fast-rising lampricide costs.

The late 1990s, however, brought good news on the funding front, primarily in three ways:

First, the commission has seen funding increases from both the governments of Canada and the United States. Just a few weeks ago, Canada provided the commission with a $1 million increase for sea lamprey control and to re-register the lampricide in Canada. This Canadian increase comes on the heels of a $1 million increase from the United States for sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River. The president’s fiscal 2001 budget—which takes effect this October— includes an additional $2.8 million for alternative controls. Congress needs to approve this increase, and we are optimistic they will do so. The financial future of the commission looks bright indeed.

The second important funding change of the 1990s has been a heightened commitment by the governments of Canada and the United States to the program. Not only does increased funding indicate increased commitment, but I think it’s fair to say that both governments, more and more, view the commission as a shining example of effective fisheries management that deserves the strong support of the governments.

Third, more and more, we see the financial support for the commission’s work broadening. We all know about and appreciate the $3 million contribution from the state of Michigan for sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River. This contribution would not have been possible without a commitment by the State, its governor, and the legislature, and also a commitment by stakeholders and advisors who helped articulate the importance of these funds. Also, the commission’s trust funds—established in both Canada and the United States to provide long-term funds for the fishery—continue to grow thanks to financial contributions from industry and individuals, including contributions in 1999 from the Michigan Steelheaders, our lampricide suppliers AgrEvo and Kinetic Industries, Dick and Mary Reuss, Donna and Burt Atkinson, Pam and Ed Makauskas, and the Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association. 

The commission extends its appreciation to all who have worked to communicate the benefits of adequate funding and who have made contributions to enrich the program.


Partnerships, an important component of the vision, continued to grow during the 1990s. 

The 1990s certainly brought heightened participation in the commission’s advisor program. This new enthusiasm in and commitment to the Great Lakes fishery is extremely valuable to cooperative management of the resource. The commission is thrilled to see that this element of the Strategic Vision has grown beyond our expectations, largely due to a commitment by the advisors themselves to be more involved. Today, I am pleased to report that only one or two advisor positions remain vacant in the United States and a newly expanded Canadian Committee of Advisors is now at 100 percent, with the appointment of Mr. Scott McLeod, representing the Anishinabek/Ontario Fisheries Resource Centre. Welcome, Scott. Chairman Makauskas, Chairman Graham, we view the committee of advisors as vital to our program and extend our thanks to you and the members for your steadfast commitment to the resource.

To maintain and grow partnerships, the Vision also called for a continuing commitment to the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries—through the Lake Committee process—to facilitate coordinated, consensus-based management. The commission is proud to observe that throughout the 1990s, agency commitment to this successful process could not have been stronger. In 1997, the Plan was updated, notably adding the U.S. Geological Survey to the list of signatories and creating a Council of Great Lakes Fishery Agencies to guide implementation of the Plan. Today, the Plan remains one of the best examples of cooperative fishery management anywhere on earth. This plan is so well-formulated that other regions of the world look to us as an example of how management should be done. 

In 1999, the commission was the proud recipient of the William Ricker Resource Conservation Award, presented by the American Fisheries Society. Although the award was presented to the commission it was really for facilitating cooperative fishery management on the Great Lakes under the Joint Strategic Plan. So, today, at the end of the decade, we can proudly say that our peers at the American Fisheries Society have paid all of us in the Great Lakes region a high honor with this prestigious recognition.

Other partnerships that have been strengthened in the 1990s—in the spirit of the Vision—include our interaction with the International Joint Commission through joint publications and regular meetings, with Michigan State University through the PERM program, and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers through greater cooperation in sea lamprey trap and barrier construction.

Sea Lamprey

Let me shift now to the sea lamprey control program and how it fared during the 1990s. The goal under the Vision, of course, has been to keep lampreys suppressed to a level consistent with Fish Community Objectives. Certainly, in most areas of the Great Lakes, the commission and its agents have successfully reduced sea lamprey populations by 90%, allowing for rehabilitation, stocking, and the sustainability of a thriving sport and commercial fishery.

Without a doubt, however, the biggest challenge the program faced at the start of the 1990s was the terrible situation in the St. Marys River, where the river produced more sea lampreys than all of the other Great Lakes combined, basically keeping Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan in a state of collapse. We all know that today, at the end of the decade, sea lamprey control on the river is well underway and the future of the affected areas looks extremely bright.

The 1990s saw tremendous innovation in the sea lamprey control effort that made this success possible. The availability and application of global positioning technology allowed agents to pinpoint the exact location of sea lamprey larvae. 

The invention of granular Bayluscide—by the folks at the Upper Mississippi Science Center—allowed targeted application of lampricide without the use of TFM. 

The application of a large-scale sterile-male-release program will keep spawning down over the long run. 

And construction of sea lamprey traps will remove lampreys from the system before they have a chance to spawn. 

All of these elements were developed and applied during the 1990s and epitomize the forward-thinking, innovative nature of the program. We have indeed come a long way in ten years and I am very pleased to say that today, we have reduced the spawning potential of the St. Marys River by an astounding 92%. Fish in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan now face a long life in the lake instead of certain death by sea lampreys.

Over the past ten years, the commission and its agents have made substantial progress on another part of the sea lamprey vision: that of lampricide reduction. Ten years ago, we set out—ambitiously—to reduce the use of TFM by 50% by the year 2000, due to escalating costs, belief that alternatives should be used if they exist, and our goal to create a more integrated pest management program. Although we fell short of that lampricide reduction goal, the amount we have reduced is still remarkable. Today, the program uses about 35% less lampricide than it did at the start of the 1990s, saving us over $1.2 million a year while still allowing for the same level of control. A more scientific application of TFM, along with alternative controls such as barriers, traps, and the sterile-male-technique, has brought about this reduction. As we look toward the future, we will continue to reduce our lampricide use until we meet and surpass that 50% reduction goal. The proposed fiscal year 2001 budget—currently pending before Congress—includes welcomed funds for alternative controls. With new innovations, a strong will, and your continued support and encouragement, we can—and we will—reach our lampricide reduction goal.

Healthy Ecosystems

Finally, let me highlight one event of the 1990s that epitomizes the commission’s vision for healthy ecosystems: restoration of lake trout in Lake Superior. At the start of the decade, after careful stocking and prudent harvest controls, lake trout in Lake Superior was in pretty good shape, though it was still supported by stocking. By 1996, and continuing to this day, management agencies had declared a major victory in the management of the Lake Superior fishery: lake trout stocking would no longer take place in most of Lake Superior because lake trout had reached a level of self-sustainability!

Thinking back to the late 1960s and early 1970s—when lake trout was driven to near extinction in all of the Great Lakes—today’s decades-long achievement is monumental. The success in Lake Superior is testament to ingenuity, endurance, and foresight. More importantly, it proves to us that we can regain what we have lost as long as we adhere to science and sound management.

The Future

So today, at the start of a new decade, the future of the Great Lakes fishery looks bright.

Funding for our vital work is strong and improving.

Partnerships and cooperation are now “business as usual.”

No major uncontrolled populations of sea lampreys exist anywhere in the Great Lakes.

Alternative controls have come of age and new research will take the program to a new plane.

And the health of the fishery is encouraging indeed.

As we formulate our new Strategic Vision for the First Decade of the Next Millennium, we must remain conscious of where we have been and where we are going; where we have succeeded and where we have failed.

As I look back at the 1990s and as I reflect on my service as Chair of the commission, the thing that makes me most proud is our steadfast commitment to science. Our main strength in the Great Lakes region—indeed the very reason for our success—is the fact that science is behind our actions. In a world of uncertainty—and natural resource management is full of uncertainty—the one thing we know for sure is that science has brought us to where we are and will lead us boldly into the next millennium.

Enjoy this annual meeting and thank you.