Testimony of Dr. Charles C. Krueger

Vice-Chair, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

before the

House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary

Hon. Harold Rogers, Chairman

April 18, 1996

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is Charles Krueger and I am the Vice chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. I was first appointed to the commission in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan and re-appointed in 1992 by President George Bush. I am also a professor of fishery science at Cornell University.

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this subcommittee to highlight the work of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and to stress the importance of sound, binational fisheries management on the Great Lakes.

Economic Value and Condition of the fisheries

The Great Lakes are highly-valued resources that makes contiguous eight states, two nations, one province, and several sovereign tribal governments. More than 33 million people live within the Great Lakes basin. These people rely on the lakes' resources for drinking water, employment, income, food, and recreation. Our region is truly blessed with the bounty the lakes offer.

Generations of Americans and Canadians have grown up enjoying the pleasures of angling and the economic income provided by the Great Lakes fisheries. Estimates place the total annual economic value of the Great Lakes fisheries at up to $4 billion. This figure reflects the value of landed commercial fish and the direct economic value and expenditures of recreational angling.

Economic statements, of course, do not begin to describe what the Great Lakes fisheries mean spiritually to the five million recreational anglers who flock to the Lakes each year in pursuit of salmon, lake trout, walleye, and the multitude of other fish species in the lakes, or to the coastal communities who provide goods and services to these anglers.

The sad thing is, the tremendous value of the fisheries today reflects only a fraction of what the fisheries once provided to the people of the United States and Canada. After years of over-fishing, habitat destruction, and, ultimately, predation by nonindigenous species--most notably the sea lamprey--the Great Lakes fisheries continue to require extensive rehabilitation and careful stewardship of its benefits.

Consider, for example, the threats that plague the fisheries:

  • Even with a successful lamprey control program, in some areas of the Great Lakes, sea lampreys kill more fish than are harvested by humans.
  • Introductions of non-native species, such as zebra mussels, have greatly threatened the ecosystem, the food web and the overall stability of the fisheries.
  • Habitat destruction endangers the spawning areas of some of the most prized fish species in the Great Lakes.
  • Fish communities are in a severe state of instability because of the loss of top predators such as lake trout and salmon.

  • The Great Lakes Fishery Commission

    Encouragingly, federal, state, provincial, and tribal governments recognized decades ago--as they recognize now--that the best way to manage the Great Lakes fisheries for use today and to sustain the fisheries for the benefit of future generations is through careful, binational cooperation. After all, managing the fisheries is a big task and there are many stakeholders involved.

    To facilitate careful management on a coordinated, binational level, the governments of the United States and Canada negotiated and ratified the 1955 Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, which created the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. This bilateral agreement affirms the need for the two governments to collaborate on the protection and the perpetuation of the Great Lakes' fisheries resources.

    The Convention charged the commission with two major duties:

  • To implement a comprehensive sea lamprey control program on the Great Lakes; and
  • To formulate a research program designed to nurture the maximum sustained productivity of Great Lakes fish stocks and, based on that research, to recommend specific management programs to the governments.
  • The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, created some four decades ago, effectively meets today's ecosystem management needs consistent with the modern emphasis on less government, more partnerships, and delivery of effective, focused programs.

    Sea Lamprey Control

    The commission's most visible contribution to the well-being of the Great Lakes fisheries is control of the sea lamprey. To deliver lamprey control and to conduct the necessary research, the commission has entered into a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Biological Service, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and other agencies. Through a process known as Integrated Management of Sea Lamprey, these agencies, along with the active participation of provincial, state and tribal governments, collectively formulate the lamprey control program.

    Sea lampreys are primitive eel-like fish native to the Atlantic Ocean. Sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes system in the 1800s through the manmade Erie and Welland canals, and they established large populations in all of the Great Lakes by the 1930s. In its lifetime, each sea lamprey, by attaching to fish and feeding on their body fluids, can kill 40 or more pounds of fish. Lampreys are so destructive that in some conditions, only one out of seven fish attacked by a lamprey will survive the attack. By the 1950s, lamprey predation, in combination with other factors, greatly reduced the numbers of lake trout, whitefish and other desirable species in the Great Lakes. The once thriving fisheries were devastated.

    Fortunately, the sea lamprey's unique life cycle is also its Achilles Heel. Lampreys live for 3-17 years as larvae in river bottoms before they emerge from the mud and transform into predacious adults. Commission scientists discovered in the late 1950s that lampreys are susceptible during their larval stage to TFM, a selective toxicant. Since the discovery of TFM's effectiveness, TFM applications have been the main method of lamprey control for the past 30 years.

    Five years ago, the commission set a goal to reduce lampricide use by 50% by the year 2001 because lampricides are costly and because the commission is sensitive to societal concerns about the use of chemicals. To reach that goal, the commission has invested in alternative, non-chemical means to control lampreys. Already, the commission is about halfway to reaching the lampricide reduction goal because of the development and implementation of a number programs including the construction of barriers, the use of lamprey traps, and the testing of a sterile-male-release technique to prevent lampreys from spawning successfully.

    Achieving the lampricide reduction goal is possible, but only through continued investment in alternative controls. The commission has been committed to making that investment by devoting greater percentages of the lamprey control budgets to alternative controls. In 1996, the commission will apply approximately 25% of the budget to alternative controls; in 1997, the goal is to commit about 30%.

    The lamprey control program has been a miraculous success. Because of the commission's efforts:

  • Sea lamprey populations in most areas of the lakes have been reduced by 90% from their historic high of the 1940s and 1950s;
  • Lake trout--once king of the fishery but later devastated by sea lampreys and other problems--are again self-sustaining in most areas of Lake Superior. Lake trout rehabilitation in the other Great Lakes is making progress;
  • Smaller and less valuable species (e.g. alewives) are less prolific because lamprey control supports the resurgence of top predators--such as lake trout and salmon--which eat the smaller species;
  • Management agencies can stock fish and implement other restoration activities with confidence, knowing that their fish will likely survive to reproduce or be caught by humans rather than be eaten by lampreys; and
  • The popularity of sportfishing in the Great Lakes has increased greatly since the early 1960s.
  • The U.S. and Canadian federal governments, along with the states and tribes, rely on lamprey control as the backbone of their fisheries management programs. Indeed, the continued success of the fisheries is dependent on the ongoing sea lamprey control program. Without lamprey control, stocking efforts and rehabilitation programs would be futile; management agencies would just be providing food for lampreys.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff who deliver the sea lamprey control as the commission's agents do an outstanding, professional job; much of the success we see today would not have been possible without the dedication and expertise provided by lamprey control agents.

    Despite these resounding successes, several important challenges remain. For instance:

  • Water quality in the St. Marys River (northern Lake Huron) has improved significantly such that the river now produces more lampreys than the other Great Lakes combined. Sea lampreys from the St. Marys River are decimating fish stocks in Lake Huron and threatening stocks in northern Lake Michigan. Conventional treatment of the river would not only be prohibitively costly, but would probably be ineffective.
  • The good news is, the commission has been undertaking a state-of-the-art assessment effort and has determined the hot beds of lampreys to make possible treatment of selected areas of the river. The commission has now developed the knowledge and the technology to control lampreys in the St. Marys River.

    The bad news is, a St. Marys River treatment--even a selective treatment--will be costly. Stagnant funding will force us to decide whether to treat the St. Marys River and little else, or to continue with widespread lamprey control in the Great Lakes, to forego St. Marys River treatment, and to learn to live with severely damaged fisheries in lakes Huron and Michigan.

  • Five years ago, the commission set a goal of reducing the use of lampricides by 50% by the year 2001.
  • The good news is, through better lampricide applications and through the effective implementation of non-chemical control techniques, the commission has already reduced use by about 25%.

    The bad news is, funding restrictions will force the commission to reduce research and the implementation of non-chemical control techniques.

    Unfortunately, as with the vast majority of exotic pests, it has not been possible to eradicate sea lamprey from the Great Lakes. Thus, healthy aquatic ecosystems and related benefits for Great Lakes communities are completely dependent on continuation of the sea lamprey control program. Sea lampreys can be likened to a coiled spring: as long as you have your foot on it, it will stay under control. But the moment you let go, lampreys will spring back, uncontrolled.

    Coordinated Fisheries Management

    The commission does much more than lamprey control. As outlined in the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries, the commission also has the duty to coordinate fisheries research and to provide advice to governments on fisheries rehabilitation initiatives.

    The commission has been extremely effective in providing a valuable, non-hierarchical forum for development, testing, and application of new fish management concepts and approaches across the basin. The commission is a long term champion of the ecosystem approach to fisheries management, genetic conservation, and lake trout rehabilitation. Because the Great Lakes basin is a natural (not a political) entity, the commission is uniquely poised to emphasize ecosystemic issues of the Great Lakes without the distraction of external or political concerns. Reporting arrangements provide high level, visible, binational hearing in both Canada and the United States of joint fish management concerns and needs.

    For instance, the commission successfully facilitates coordinated fisheries management in several ways:

  • State, tribal, and provincial management agencies use the commission's Lake Committee structure to share results of research, to develop coordinated research priorities, to set harvest quotas, and to discuss any fisheries management practices that require collaboration among several jurisdictions.
  • Management agencies have used the commission's forum to develop an effective program to manage fish disease within the basin.
  • Federal, state, provincial, and tribal management agencies use the commission's Integrated Management of Sea Lamprey structure to collectively develop the most effective and the most efficient sea lamprey control program.
  • Under the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's forums, biologists publish Fish Community Objectives for each of the Great Lakes. These objectives lay out the targets and a schedule for interjurisdictional fish management on the Great Lakes.

  • The United States Department of State

    The Great Lakes Fishery Commission enjoys a positive relationship with the U.S. Department of State. U.S. funding for the commission comes almost entirely from the International Fisheries Commissions account of the State Department, consistent with the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries and with the Great Lakes Fisheries Act. Having the State Department as the commission's funding agency allows the commission to actively manage the sea lamprey program in a cost-effective, forward-looking, ecosystem-based manner.

    The commission seeks to preserve the existing funding arrangement because the State Department has the authority to maintain international treaty obligations with other nations (in this instance, with Canada), and is perceived as a neutral force in the dynamic interactions of the region, rather than seen as competitive with state, provincial, tribal, and federal fisheries programs. Funding from federal agencies other than the State Department would be perceived as tipping this delicate balance. The State Department also has the authority, the expertise, and the experience to negotiate financial and other bilateral arrangements with Canada.

    The eight Great Lakes states, the tribes, and the bipartisan Congressional Great Lakes Task Force have gone on written record vehemently opposing proposals to move the commission's funding out of the State Department as such a shift would undermine the successful fisheries management structure we enjoy in the Great Lakes region.

    Fiscal 1996 Program

    Under the continuing resolutions for fiscal year 1996, the commission should receive a total of $8.3 million in appropriations from the United States. The fiscal 1996 funding level represents flat funding from the State Department, but it also represents a $450,000 reduction in funding over fiscal 1995, since Congress did not maintain the funds provided from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The Canadians intend to contribute a total of about $3.4 million during the U.S. 1996 fiscal year. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has announced a reduction in funding from their "topped-up" contribution to the commission as part of an effort to reduce DFO involvement in freshwater fisheries throughout Canada. DFO is in negotiations with other Canadian government agencies to identify alternative funding mechanisms. The Government of Canada has assured us that its binational commitments on the Great Lakes will continue to be respected, and that valuable Great Lakes fishery resources will continue to be protected effectively over the long term.

    Funding reductions in fiscal year 1996 have limited the commission's program; inflation amplifies the direct monetary reduction. Specifically, in 1996, the commission expects:

  • fewer stream treatments, and, thus, an increase in lamprey predation on valuable fish stocks;
  • less ability to assess the sea lamprey, and, thus, less data available by which future management decisions will be made; and
  • a reduction in implementation of non-chemical lamprey control techniques, and, thus, a setback in the goal of a 50% reduction in lampricides by the year 2001.
  • Also, because the commission's foreign supplier of TFM has advised that production of the lampricide will cease, the commission felt it prudent to purchase additional inventory to secure a sufficient quantity while an American manufacturer is developed. This action has necessitated the commission assuming a debt of $2 million.

    1997 Program Requirements

    As the commission looks forward to fiscal year 1997, there are some funding scenarios to consider:

    1)The commission estimates that $14.7 million will be required from the United States to implement a complete program of assessment, chemical treatments, St. Marys River treatment, alternative controls, research, committee facilitation, lampricide registration, and administration. This program level adequately addresses the responsibilities for which the commission was created 40 years ago.

    2)In keeping with current economic circumstances, the commission seeks a total of $10.4 million from the United States in fiscal year 1997 in order to continue base program efforts at the 1995 level and to initiate control on the St. Marys River. This funding level will allow the commission to

  • begin aggressive treatment on the St. Marys River;
  • maintain the minimum level of assessment required to support the lamprey control program;
  • continue the current base lamprey control program using lampricides;
  • continue the current level of alternative control efforts;
  • continue the current level of research;
  • maintain lampricide registration and continue reregistration; and
  • facilitate the current commission committee system.
  • 3)Congress should be aware that flat funding in 1997 from the United States would not allow the delivery of the same program as in 1996. Flat funding from the U.S., combined with Canadian reductions, would cause a very serious reduction in funds available for all priority areas, especially

  • treatment of the St. Marys River;
  • research on and implementation of non-chemical methods to control lampreys.
  • regular lamprey treatments; and
  • partial repayment of the 1996 lampricide debt.

  • Conclusion

    I have stressed in this testimony the importance of binational cooperation and interstate coordination necessary to successfully manage and rehabilitate the fisheries.

    I have stressed the tremendous economic and spiritual value the citizens of the United States enjoy because of the Great Lakes resources.

    I have stressed the significant need for and the success of the commission's sea lamprey control program and of the commission's ability to facilitate sound fisheries management practices among all jurisdictions.

    And I have stressed the need for adequate funding--from the U.S. State Department--in fiscal year 1997.

    Finally, it is important to remember that the funds appropriated to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission stimulate a sizeable economic return. A recent report of the Evaluation of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission by the Bi-National Evaluation Team concluded: "The Great Lakes Fishery Commission produces an estimated benefit of nearly $17 dollars for every dollar spent and it is operating at a high level of economic efficiency. This finding is supported also by a consensus of the resource management agencies and the commercial fishermen . . ."

    In these times of government cutbacks and downsizing, it is refreshing to highlight a program that returns so much in direct economic benefits from a relatively small government investment. Continued funding for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is indeed a sound investment not only for today but for future generations who will benefit from the Great Lakes fisheries.

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