Ms. Gail Beggs, Chair
Commissioners, advisors, board and committee members, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to welcome you to the 41st Annual Meeting of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
We are honored to have heard from Senator Kohl this morning.
I also again thank Buzz Besadny for his many years of service to the commission and I invite you all to a reception to honor Buzz--featuring Great Lakes whitefish and caviar provided by Dennis Hickey, one of our U.S. advisors--at 5:30 this evening. I know we will all enjoy tasting some of the fruits of successful fishery management!
As we gather today to bring attention to the Great Lakes fishery, we have cause to celebrate another year of successful fishery management and to celebrate significant advances in our program.
First, we have cause to celebrate a major victory in the efforts to rehabilitate the Great Lakes fishery: after years of careful lake trout stocking, coordinated sea lamprey control, limits on commercial and sport fishing, and water quality protection, lake trout are again self-sustaining in large areas of Lake Superior.
John Robertson, Michigan's Fish Chief, will address this subject in detail in a few minutes.
Let me just say that not only has the lake trout restoration proved that cooperation is the means to successful fishery management, but we have also proved that rehabilitation of our valuable resources is possible.
Truly, we can, if we work together, mitigate the damages that have plagued our Great Lakes fishery for so long. I congratulate the agencies for their dedication to this cause.
We have another thing to celebrate: 40 years of successful sea lamprey control on the Great Lakes. It was in 1956 when the Governments of the United States and Canada created the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and, by doing so, took a major step in following through on their commitment to coordinated fishery rehabilitation, as outlined in the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries.
It was also in that year that our two nations began the intensive sea lamprey control program that brings us to the point today where we can boast that our efforts have reduced lampreys by about 90% in most areas of the Great Lakes.
Indeed, 40 years after the fishery was practically written off, lampreys are under control--probably beyond the expectations of the negotiators who framed the Convention--and agencies can undertake their fishery management and stocking programs knowing the lakes are safe environments for fish.
Lamprey control, like lake trout restoration, would not have been possible without the binational cooperation fostered by the commission, and without the fine, professional work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Biological Service, and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, our agents.
To mark this 40-year anniversary of the commission, the 30-year anniversary of the Sea Lamprey Control Centre in Ontario, and to celebrate the cooperation we enjoy, DFO's Sea Lamprey Control Centre--with the support of the commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service--will host a celebration this September complete with open houses, a fish boil, a dinner and dance, and other events.
This celebration promises to be exciting. For information, refer to the special insert in the latest edition of Forum (copies on the back table) or talk with commission or DFO staff.
We made advances over the past year with respect to many other aspects of the sea lamprey control program besides conventional lamprey control.
For instance, the commission has continued to devote significant resources and attention to the reduction in the use of lampricides.
Although lampricides are remarkably successful in suppressing lamprey populations, and although the lamprey control program currently depends principally on lampricide applications, the commission nonetheless set a target in its Strategic Vision five years ago to reduce lampricide use by 50%--from the levels of the late 1980s--by year 2001. Lampricides are expensive--costs have skyrocketed 256% since 1986!--and the commission is sensitive to societal concerns about the use of chemicals.
I am pleased to report that half way through the decade, we are about half way to achieving that lampricide reduction goal!
Over the last treatment cycle we have reduced the amount of lampricide we use by about 25%. This reduction has been possible through more effective applications of TFM and through the construction of new barriers.
Achieving the lampricide reduction goal is possible, but in addition to continually refining lampricide applications, we must continue to invest in alternative controls.
The commission has been committed to making that investment by devoting greater percentages of lamprey control budgets to alternative controls. In 1996, the commission will apply nearly 20% of the budget to alternative controls; in 1997, the goal is to commit over 30%.
Barriers, certainly, are an important part of this alternative control program. The commission and its agents continue to implement a barrier strategy that originally relied largely on conventional lowhead barriers for lamprey control, but that now promotes designs and tests to develop innovative barriers that improve both fish passage and lamprey suppression.
New barrier technologies include:
Last month, with the media, local and federal dignitaries, and the public on hand, we dedicated the second experimental inflatable barrier, located on Lake Erie's Big Creek.
This barrier has been enthusiastically received by the local fishing clubs as a way to control lampreys and still allow passage of the prized brown trout and rainbow trout that grace the river.
Ellie Koon, the U.S. Barrier Coordinator, and Tom McAuley, the Canadian Barrier Coordinator continue to update the barrier strategy to get the most benefit out of the designs. The commission is grateful for your dedication. We look forward to Ellie's presentation later today.
Other alternative controls that the commission has been supporting include the sterile-male-release-technique and research into lamprey bile acids and pheromones.
Evaluation has shown that sterilized male lampreys, when released into streams, have reduced viable nests. We will continue to investigate the potential of this promising technique.
Likewise, commission-sponsored research--conduced by Peter Sorensen of the University of Minnesota--suggests that lamprey bile acids and pheromones could be a means to attract lampreys to traps or into streams not suitable for spawning.
These types of research initiatives illustrate our vision for the future and demonstrate our commitment to better lamprey control.
I mentioned that lampreys have been reduced by 90% in most areas of the Great Lakes. I would say all areas of the Great Lakes except for the fact that the St. Marys River produces more lampreys than all of the other Great Lakes combined.
It is the largest under-controlled source of lampreys in the Great Lakes and the problem is so serious to the fish communities of Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan that fishery managers are reluctant to stock fish in northern Lake Huron because of the lampreys.
The St. Marys River is the biggest threat to the achievement of fish community objectives in Lakes Huron and Michigan.
The good news is, we are gaining a clear understanding of lamprey populations in the St. Marys River and we are now poised to launch a treatment program that will address this very serious lamprey problem.
State-of-the-art assessment efforts using Global Positioning Systems have allowed us to accurately map larval densities in the river.
A dye study, to take place this summer, will provide more information on how we might apply lampricides to control sea lampreys in the river.
The information we gather will allow us to plan and implement a cost-effective, environmentally-safe lamprey control effort on the St. Marys River.
We can also celebrate the continued reliance on and the solidification of partnerships.
Indeed, there is no doubt that partnerships drive fishery management on the Great Lakes; they must. After all, the resources are shared by two nations, eight states, one province, several tribes, and over 30 million citizens.
We have used the diversity of needs and the dedication of the fishery managers to our advantage: we have solidified, through the Joint Strategic Plan for Great Lakes Fishery Management (SGLFMP), our willingness to work together for the benefit of the resource as a whole.
Management of fisheries through SGLFMP continues to be one of the best examples of cooperative management of a binational resource anywhere in the world; the successes of our programs proves cooperation works!
This year, SGLFMP will be reviewed and strengthened where need be. I am pleased to report that the review process is going well and that SGLFMP participants remain dedicated to the cooperative system we have in place. A recent questionnaire indicated that only minor revisions to SGLFMP are needed.
The partnership we enjoy between the commission and the state-nominated advisors is also much stronger this year thanks to a reinvigorated spirit among the advisors and thanks to a willingness on the part of the states to nominate individuals to fill advisor positions.
This past August, for instance, Advisor Convener Dick Kubiak and Alternate Commissioner David Dempsey convened a special meeting in Ann Arbor to focus on how to better involve advisors in the commission's activities. The meeting was a success and participants introduced several new ideas to achieve that goal.
The commission welcomes this rejuvenated advisor spirit and our gratitude extends to Dick Kubiak and the others who attended the meeting for their tireless work make it happen. Dick will provide a report on this meeting tomorrow.
Allow me, also, to acknowledge another advisor who has been particularly active in helping to improve the resource. Paul Wendler, an advisor from Michigan, was instrumental in helping the commission enter into a partnership with Dow Chemical over the improvement of a fishway on Lake Huron's Tittabawasse River.
Not only have Mr. Wendler's efforts brought about a monetary contribution from Dow for this effort, but they have helped us build an important partnership that will benefit the resource tremendously. The commission will honor Mr. Wendler later in the program.
With the nominations put forth recently by the State of Michigan, nearly all U.S. advisor positions are filled. The success and dedication of the U.S. Advisors demonstrates the advantages of citizen activism, and it is my hope that the Canadian Section will build on this highly successful model and strengthen the role of the Canadian Advisors.
The commission is also continuing in its partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a state-of-the-art lamprey trap using attractant water. The project is located in Sault Ste. Marie, on the St. Marys River and, by working with the Corps, the commission has been able to leverage funds to complete this project.
In addition to the lamprey barrier project, the Corps is applying its
expertise to help us understand and model the flow of the St. Marys River.
In conjunction with the dye study and modeling initiatives, the Corps will
use sonar to measure river flow, further increasing the accuracy of the
data gathered. Also on the St. Marys:
are pitching in with people and boats to help in the upcoming dye study sampling efforts. Working together, we're sure to meet the challenges of the St. Marys River.
Finally, with respect to partnerships, we are very pleased to report that we are in the final stages of selecting a Partnership in Ecosystem Research and Management--or PERM--scientist to direct the commission's internal research program.
This long-awaited initiative is a joint program among the commission, Michigan State University, the National Biological Service, and Michigan DNR, where the commission funds a tenured university professor's position.
As you can see, the commission has had a very successful year and can boast the delivery of an effective lamprey control program, the advancement of alternative control techniques, and the solidification of partnerships.
Unfortunately, and despite the successes of the past year, we face significant challenges because of our funding situation.
As most of you know, Canada has opted to reduce its contributions to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission by $1.4 million--26%--during its 1996/1997 fiscal year, thus returning to the level of funding it provided in 1995.
The implications of this funding reduction are numerous. Immediately, we will not be able to complete the full treatment schedule in 1996 that we had planned. We estimate that 5-10 fewer streams will be treated in 1996 than in 1995.
Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that the United States, which provided level funds for the commission in 1996, may reduce its contributions to the program in order to abide by the agreed-upon 69% U.S. to 31% Canada funding ratio.
A reduction in U.S. contributions--above Canada's funding cut--would have very, very serious implications on the program.
We must always bear in mind that we share a binational resource, and funding decisions by one country impact both countries and, ultimately, the fishery resources.
The full implications of the funding problems will not be felt until 1997 and beyond. In 1997, we expect further reductions in treatments and assessment, we expect to be able to conduct less research into alternative controls, and we expect far fewer resources to be available for implementation of these alternative control techniques.
Furthermore, sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River-- which is entirely dependent on additional funds--is in serious jeopardy just when we are poised to undertake an effective treatment. Without additional funding, sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River could only happen through drastic reductions or cessation of control treatments on the other Great Lakes.
These cuts, of course, will have a severe impact on the fishery. Without adequate resources, lampreys will continue to proliferate out of control in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan.
To make matters worse, we will lose years of hard-won gains in the other Great Lakes, as increased lamprey populations, and, thus, increased lamprey predation will most certainly lead to higher fish mortality basinwide and threatens restoration efforts.
An increase in lamprey predation will be felt by the sport and by the commercial fishermen alike and seriously threaten stability in the Great Lakes ecosystem.
The commission has taken short term steps to help mitigate the Canadian funding cut in 1996. The commission went more than $2 million into debt in order to purchase needed lampricides and to ensure program continuity, at least for this year.
The news is not all bad with respect to funding. The commission has taken steps recently to set up endowment funds in the United States and Canada as a way to supplement the program in time of fiscal constraint.
The commission is also working with Canada, the Province of Ontario, and user groups to identify sources of long-term Canadian funding for the program.
The desire to identify new funding sources is present, and I am confident we will be able to help Canada succeed in maintaining long term funding for the program.
That said, what does the future hold for the program? We certainly have significant challenges ahead; funding reductions complicate our efforts to deliver a strong program.
We must keep in mind
As we finish this year and move into 1997, it is clear we have a lot going for us.
I continually remind myself that we are not just rebuilding the fishery for our benefit; we are doing it for the good of future generations who deserve to enjoy the resources as much as we do.
We will be judged on our stewardship.