I am very pleased to welcome everybody to the 40th-anniversary meeting of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. I am especially pleased to officially welcome Chris Goddard to the position of executive secretary of the Commission.
At our very first annual meeting, held in 1956 in Ann Arbor, the then-new Commission faced many challenges. There was a pressing need for international cooperation in fishery management, and the Convention of Great Lakes Fisheries between the United States and Canada was only ratified one year earlier. At that time, sea lamprey populations were increasing while valuable lake trout populations had collapsed
At the time of the first annual meeting, electrical barriers were the only methods for controlling sea lampreys. Use of light repellents was tried and rejected and the effectiveness of electrical barriers proved to be inconsistent in preventing adult sea lampreys from reaching their spawning grounds. Consequently, the Commission concluded early on that "nothing but the development of a means for destroying larval lamprey in streams can prevent failure of the fishery." The new means of destroying larvae, of course, was the chemical lampricide TFM, which was first field tested in 1957 after 6,000 chemicals were screened to find one that was toxic and selective.
We have, in essence come full circle in our approach to lamprey control. Although TFM has been indispensable in achieving the current level of sea lamprey suppression, we share with the public the concern that we should strive to eliminate the introduction of any chemicals into the aquatic environment. To move away from use of chemicals, we have, therefore, set ambitious, though not unrealistic, goals of reducing our TFM use by 50 percent by the end of the decade and of again focusing on non-chemical alternatives to lamprey control.
In many ways, today's goals are strikingly similar to those identified at the first annual meeting. Then, and now, we are focusing on alternative techniques for the control of sea lampreys. We remain steadfast in our continuing efforts at fostering and improving partnerships in fishery management. We continue to rely on sound science as a basis for planning and management. And we are still strongly committed to promoting sustainable use of the Great Lakes fishery.
The Commission has recently completed a review of the progress it is making in fulfilling specific activities associated with those goals. Last month, we released the mid-decade review of our Strategic Vision. We adopted the Strategic Vision in 1991 to provide an explicit statement of the focus, intent, and direction of our program through the year 2001. The Vision embraces the ecosystem approach and consists of three Vision Statements addressing healthy ecosystems, integrated management of sea lamprey, and institutional and stakeholder partnerships. I would like to take a moment to summarize our progress toward the fulfilling the Vision and its milestones, emphasizing our significant accomplishments since the last annual meeting.
The first part of the Vision Statement directs the Commission to encourage the rehabilitation and protection of healthy aquatic ecosystems in the Great Lakes. Indicators of healthy ecosystems include naturally reproducing fish populations, sustainable benefits to society, and increased contributions of wild fish. Cooperating agencies of all types in the Great Lakes community play a role in fulfilling this part of the Vision and the challenges these agencies face are significant. For instance, sea lamprey predation, over-fishing, diseases, set-asides of some of the best spawning areas, and information gaps continue to thwart lake trout rehabilitation programs. Also, despite considerable awareness and funding for control of exotic species, we still see unacceptable risks from continued introductions via ship-ballast water discharge and from the aquaculture, bait fish, and aquarium industries. Loss of physical habitat in the Great Lakes continues to exceed gains such as those resulting from RAPs. And inputs of contaminants from the land seriously inhibit the goal of having complete wholesomeness of Great Lakes fish for human consumption.
Over the past year, however, the Commission has been active in dealing with some of these problems. For instance, we are facilitating a review of institutional arrangements which will hopefully improve the linkage of RAPs, LAMPs, and the Joint Strategic Plan into a framework that allows for an integrated approach to ecosystem management.
We have also produced a position statement on persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes. The statement, consistent with the Strategic Vision, expresses support for Canadian and American efforts to reduce concentrations of toxics to levels that do not impair the health of aquatic organisms and wildlife or the wholesomeness of fish for consumption by humans and wildlife. Our statement also supports federal, state, and provincial programs to virtually eliminate the release of persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances into the Great Lakes. In our position on toxics, we state that fishery management agencies should continue to recognize that the goal of toxics-elimination programs is the restoration of the biological integrity of the ecosystem and that this requires establishment of top piscivores.
The second Vision Statement directs the Commission to provide an integrated sea lamprey management program that is ecologically and economically sound and socially acceptable. While we have made progress in producing all of the required analyses, we are still behind schedule in completing target levels for sea lamprey suppression that maximize net benefits of sea lamprey and fisheries management. We continue to fulfill our obligations of maintaining TFM's registration with environmental agencies and, as I mentioned earlier, we are moving forward with a bold goal of greatly reducing TFM use. We have made substantial progress in developing non-chemical control methods, and we continue to devote significant resources to construction of permanent barriers and inflatable barriers that are only used during the spawning season. For instance, last December, the Commission accepted a long-range plan that outlines the potential to build barriers on 164 streams, many of which will be on the biggest sea lamprey-producing tributaries in the Great Lakes.
Also on the non-chemical treatment front, the Commission has been very encouraged by the results of a recent study indicating that the experimental sterile-male-release program is proving to be effective. We will release sterilized male lampreys into Lake Superior tributaries and the St. Marys River in 1995 and we will continue the evaluation phase of this promising large-scale experiment in alternative control.
The St. Marys River Control Task Force continues to make progress in mapping the larval populations in the St. Marys River and in investigating chemical and non-chemical means for lamprey control. We also funded the construction of a major lamprey trap in the St. Marys River, which should be completed this fall.
Finally, last December, the Commission accepted a sea lamprey research strategy that emphasizes the importance of research in fulfilling its mission. This strategy sets research priorities for defining how to best allocate funds to deliver the Commission's vision of an integrated sea lamprey management program and outlines ways to emphasize non-chemical control methods. It also defines how the commission can get the most out of the research dollars it has available.
I am very encouraged by recent progress in the fulfillment of this Vision Statement.
The third Vision Statement directs the Commission to foster partnerships necessary to develop Fish Community Objectives for each Great Lake and to establish and disseminate priorities for fishery research. The Vision Statement also directs the Commission to develop a communications strategy
Except for Lake Ontario, current Fish Community Objectives have been produced for each lake and are either published, accepted for publication, or in review. The most recent example of this is the publication last week of fish community objectives for Lake Huron. I am also happy to report that the Board of Technical Experts has produced and modified a statement on fishery research priorities, which is completed and will be distributed later this year.
The Commission has made considerable progress in implementing its communications strategy. The single, most concrete directive to the executive secretary during the first annual meeting 40 years ago was to produce a quarterly newsletter. Earlier this year, we published the long-awaited first edition of our newsletter entitled Forum. We are very excited about the future of the Commission's communications because of the recent hiring of Marc Gaden--the former U.S. House of Representatives Great Lakes Task Force Coordinator--as our new communications officer, and Angie Meyers-Purkiss as the word processing specialist.
Let me turn from the Strategic Vision and elaborate a bit on the planned review of the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of the Great Lakes Fishery (also known as SGLFMP). In 1978, the Commission was particularly gratified when fish management agencies requested that the we take the lead in developing a Great Lakes fishery management plan. The Joint Plan formalized and further developed previous institutional arrangements. Since adoption of the Joint Plan by signatory agencies, fish management in the Great Lakes has become more cooperative, resulting in forward-looking initiatives such as multi-jurisdictional lake trout refuges in the upper lakes, and joint assessment and management in Lake Erie. The Joint Plan also provides rules of engagement which empower the fishery agencies to work together for the benefit of the Great Lakes Ecosystem including its human inhabitants. No less important to the authors of the Plan was the hope that it would support the much-desired linkage of environmental and fishery management initiatives--a topic which we will address later during the meeting.
However, to ensure that fishery agencies can continue to build on their previous successes, periodic reviews of the Plan's procedures is warranted. We are pleased that in calling for such a review, the fishery agencies through the Committee of the Whole have once again asked the Commission to provide assistance.
Though challenges remain in many areas, we are well-positioned to respond to these challenges. The Joint Plan allows us to build on each others' efforts in managing these freshwater seas. Our ultimate success also depends on a certain level of investment by society in science and assessment, in planning, and in management. Indeed, both the United States and Canadian governments have recognized how important it is to invest in the Great Lakes fishery. At last year's annual meeting, I announced that Canada would increase its annual contribution to the Commission by 1.3 million dollars Canadian. Since the last annual meeting, through the U.S. Congressional appropriations process, the United States also increased its contributions to adhere to the traditional 69/31 funding formula. The continued commitments by both the United States and Canadian governments is very encouraging, especially in light of the tight budgetary conditions in both countries.
Despite serious financial constraints that all programs face, we, as members of the Great Lakes community, must continue our strong cooperative commitments to sound fishery management. The Great Lakes, with all of its dynamics and institutional complexity, is a very difficult resource to manage and protect. I have touched upon only a few of the items necessary for a sustainable and beneficial Great Lakes fishery and I hope this annual meeting will provide a forum for constructive discussions.
I am continually impressed with the high level of professional and citizen activism within the Great Lakes community. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission is proud to be a part of that!
C.D. (Buzz) Besadny
June 6, 1995