Testimony of Dr. Charles C. Krueger

Chairman, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

before the

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

Hon. Harold Rogers, Chairman

April 1, 1998

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

On behalf of the U.S. Section of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, I am pleased to be here today to discuss the significant environmental and economic benefits of sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes and to explain an innovative funding partnership between the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the State of Michigan.

I am also here to communicate fiscal 1999 funding requirements for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, as proposed in the commission's budget, and to share with the committee exciting news about a substantial monetary contribution from the State of Michigan.

Sea Lampreys and their Devastation

Biological pollution-the invasion of undesirable plant and animal species not native to a system-has been increasing steadily this century in the Great Lakes basin, particularly as commerce in the region becomes more global and dynamic. Species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian ruffe, and round gobies have changed the very nature of the Great Lakes forever.

Among the more than 140 exotic species that have been introduced into the Great Lakes basin, the most detrimental to the basin's fisheries has been the sea lamprey, a parasitic eel-like fish native to the Atlantic Ocean. Sea lampreys entered the Great Lakes in the early part of the 20th Century through federally-constructed shipping canals and by 1937 had infested waters of all of the Great Lakes.

During its lifetime, each sea lamprey, by attaching to fish and feeding on their body fluids, can kill 40 or more pounds of fish. By the mid-1940s, sea lamprey predation, combined with overfishing and other problems, destroyed the extremely valuable fisheries in the Great Lakes. The loss of predators such as lake trout and burbot and subsequent sea lamprey predation on other species, led to catastrophic declines in the economic value of Great Lakes fisheries. For instance, nearly 85% of the fish in the Great Lakes exhibited sea lamprey wounds and the harvest, which had been about 17 million pounds of fish annually before the sea lamprey invasion, collapsed.

To address this and other problems facing the Great Lakes fishery, 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. The commission continues to insure that fishery management on the Great Lakes-a resource shared with Canada-is carried out on an ecosystem basis and in the spirit of binational cooperation. The Convention remains a highly successful blueprint for cooperative fishery management. Canada and the United States each consider the working relationship on the Great Lakes to be a model of successful binational resource management.

Besides sea lamprey control, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission also has the responsibility to formulate and implement a research program designed to nurture a sustained fishery.

The success of the commission's sea lamprey control and research program has been tremendous. Probably beyond the expectations of those who negotiated the Convention, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and its agents have reduced sea lamprey populations by about 90 percent from their historical abundance through a program that primarily uses TFM (a selective lampricide), along with traps, barriers, and the release of sterilized male lampreys. Because sea lamprey eradication is impossible, the control effort is ongoing.

The successful sea lamprey control program allows state, provincial, federal, and tribal fishery management agencies to stock fish and implement other restoration activities with confidence, knowing that their fish will likely survive to reproduce or be caught by humans. Because of sea lamprey control, agencies are able to make substantial progress in their efforts to re-establish self-sustaining populations of our rare, valuable, native species. Because of sea lamprey control, top predators-such as lake trout and salmon-are resurging and, thus, are keeping smaller and less valuable species in check. Finally, because of sea lamprey control, the popularity of sportfishing in the Great Lakes has increased substantially since the early 1960s and thousands of commercial fishing jobs are supported.

Sea lamprey control is indeed the foundation of a vibrant fishery that has rebounded from the most dire conditions of the 1940s. Today, the fishery is a highly-valued resource to the people of the Great Lakes region. The fishery provides $2-4 billion annually in economic return and directly supports more than 75,000 jobs. The more than 5 million people who fish the Great Lakes recreationally and commercially demand the delivery of an effective sea lamprey control program. Investments in sea lamprey control are investments not only in today's fishery, but also are investments in the fishery that future generations will enjoy.

Alternative Sea lamprey Control  And the Lampricide Reduction Goal

Despite the importance of the lampricide TFM in the sea lamprey control effort, the commission set a goal five years ago to reduce lampricide use by 50 percent by the year 2001. Lampricides are costly and the commission is sensitive to societal concerns about the use of pesticides. Furthermore, successful pest management programs rely on several techniques to achieve target levels of suppression. To reach its lampricide reduction goal, the commission has invested in alternative, non-chemical means to control lampreys including: the construction of barriers, the use of lamprey traps, and the application of a sterile-male-release technique to prevent lampreys from spawning successfully. Already, the commission is about halfway toward achieving its goal of a 50 percent reduction in the use of lampricide.

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 1998, the commission will apply approximately 15 percent of the budget to alternative controls; in 1999, the goal is to commit about 30 percent.

Reductions in lampricides through the research into and the development of alternative techniques is providing real program savings today and has made future sea lamprey control possible. Lampricide reductions since the late 1980s are now saving the commission more than $1 million per year in lampricide and treatment costs, while still allowing for the same level of sea lamprey control. Furthermore, sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River (described below) relies heavily on alternative controls.

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 about fisheries rehabilitation initiatives. Since the Convention, the commission has also assumed the responsibility of facilitating the implementation of the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries, the plan under which each of the eight Great Lakes states, the tribes, the Province of Ontario, and the federal governments work to collectively manage the fishery on a day-to-day basis.

Through the Convention and the Joint Strategic Plan, 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.

The commission successfully facilitates coordinated fisheries management in several ways:

The coordinated fishery management arrangement in the Great Lakes basin-as facilitated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission-is widely viewed as one of the world's best examples of interjurisdictional fishery management. The arrangement is so effective that other regions throughout North America and throughout the world are learning from us in the Great Lakes region. The U.S. Department of State has also recognized the effectiveness of this arrangement.

The Challenge of the St. Marys River

Despite the clear success of sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes basin, there remains a major trouble spot. Today, the St. Marys River-the large connecting channel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron-is not controlled; it produces more parasitic sea lampreys than exist elsewhere throughout the Great Lakes. The river is 25 times larger than the largest river ever treated for sea lampreys, thus its tremendous size and flow volume prohibit effective sea lamprey control using TFM and other conventional methods.

Sea lampreys produced in the St. Marys River migrate into Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan. There, the adult sea lamprey population is nearly as large as it was 40 years ago-before sea lamprey control-when lake trout and whitefish stocks were decimated.

In Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan, sea lampreys prey heavily on many fish species. More fish are destroyed by sea lampreys than all other sources of mortality combined-including natural causes and sport, tribal, and commercial harvest. The problem is so severe that management agencies stopped stocking lake trout in northern Lake Huron, pending sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River.

Fortunately, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and its partners have developed an integrated, cost-effective strategy to assess and control sea lampreys on the St. Marys River. These methods include lampricide spot treatments, enhanced trapping, and the large-scale application of the sterile-male-release-technique. These three methods combined will result in an 85% reduction in parasitic sea lampreys in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan over fifteen years, which will bring these areas to the same level of suppression seen in other areas of the Great Lakes. Indeed, with sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River, the last major uncontrolled population of sea lampreys in the Great Lakes will be contained.

It is important to note that alternative sea lamprey control methods contribute heavily to the St. Marys River control effort. If there were no alternative control options (and, thus, if the commission had to rely on TFM-the traditional lampricide-to do the job) St. Marys River would require nearly five times the amount of TFM used in all of the Great Lakes annually with only a 50 percent reduction in parasitic sea lampreys. Because of the research program and implementation of alternative controls, the commission is now able to treat the St. Marys River, using a minimum of lampricide, at an acceptable cost. The commission would have no options on the St. Marys River if it did not have the foresight years ago to make investments into alternative controls.

With control on the St. Marys River, spawning potential of lake trout and other species in Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan is expected to rise dramatically and agencies will again stock lake trout. With fewer sea lampreys, more fish will survive to reproduce or to be harvested. Sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River sets the stage to pass on more quality fish and fishing opportunities to future generations.

Historic Funding for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has an excellent working relationship with its funding partner, the U.S. Department of State. Funding for the commission through the State Department is strongly supported by the commission, each of the eight Great Lakes states and the tribes, because its unique international respectability allows the commission to work as an active, credible force in the region, rather than be 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. Most importantly, the State Department also has the authority, the expertise, and the experience to negotiate financial and other bilateral arrangements with Canada.

Sea lamprey control is perhaps the most popularly supported and productive federal natural resource program in the Great Lakes region. It is clear to stakeholders that the work of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission not only benefits the environment and the economy of the region directly, but it also allows others in the region to carry out their programs with more success.

Despite the pivotal role the commission plays in the region, the U.S. Section of the commission believes that the commission has been traditionally underfunded. Since fiscal year 1995, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission has received $8.3 million per year from the United States. On average, this represents approximately only 60% of what is necessary to carry out a full program as mandated by the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries. Inflation alone greatly erodes the ability to carry out an effective program. Super-inflated lampricide costs, the need to invest in alternative sea lamprey control methods, and the costs of new program areas such as the St. Marys River all argue for a full program.

Michigan's Contribution

Funding constraints are now the chief impediments to the implementation of a St. Marys River control program. Treatment of the St. Marys River alone will cost an additional $5.8 million over five years. A year ago at this time, the commission was unable to commit to a program because the funding did not exist. Without additional funds, the commission noted, the St. Marys River would either not be treated or control would have to be relaxed in other areas of the Great Lakes. Either choice proved unacceptable: the former would leave the fish stocks of Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan in a state of collapse; the latter would lead to degradation of fish communities in the other Great Lakes.

Recognizing the strong need to protect the region's fish stocks and recognizing that Lake Huron and northern Lake Michigan remain in a state of collapse until something is done to remedy the situation, the State of Michigan last year created a special Sea Lamprey Funding Task Force-made up of citizens, scientists, and state officials-to focus on ways in which sea lamprey funding could be augmented. To follow-up on the Task Force's work, Michigan's Governor Engler proposed (and the state legislature approved) a one-time, unconditional contribution of $1 million a year for three years (starting in fiscal 1998) to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The purpose of the contribution is two-fold: to allow the commission to commit to a St. Marys River treatment and to entice the United States and Canadian federal governments to increase their contributions to the commission.

The commission thanks the Sea Lamprey Funding Task Force for its hard work and commends Michigan for taking this action, which will be of tremendous benefit to the health of the Great Lakes fishery.

The $3 million provided by Michigan is just the tip of the iceberg in a system of non-federal contributions to the sea lamprey control effort. Each year, the Great Lakes states, the Province of Ontario, and the tribes, spend millions of dollars on fisheries research, fisheries population assessment, stocking, rehabilitation, and other efforts that directly and indirectly support the commission's program. (Michigan alone, for example, spends about $2 million on in-kind contributions to support the effort.) These in-kind contributions demonstrate that the Great Lakes community collectively recognizes the importance of the commission's work and that agencies are willing to provide support to the greatest extent possible.

Michigan was under no obligation to provide direct funds to the commission and non-federal entities are under no obligation to make in-kind contributions. Funding for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is clearly a federal responsibility. Michigan's contribution is the first time a non-federal entity has provided a significant direct grant to the commission. Furthermore, people throughout the Great Lakes region will benefit from Michigan's contribution, because sea lamprey control in other areas will likely not be reduced to pay for the St. Marys River control effort.

Governor Engler's letter (attached) makes it clear that the one-time financial contribution from Michigan should be viewed by the federal governments as an act of good faith and as a way to justify enhanced federal contributions.

1999 Program Requirements

In times of government funding reductions and fiscal restraint, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is proud to say that it has risen to the occasion by carrying out a more effective program with fewer dollars and by leveraging federal dollars with alternative funding sources, such as the contribution provided by the State of Michigan. If we are to sustain sea lamprey control in all areas of the Great Lakes, if we are to carry out sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River, and if we are to make adequate investments into alternative sea lamprey control methods, additional funds are necessary.

The fiscal 1999 Federal Budget proposed flat funding ($8.3 million) for the commission despite Michigan's contribution and despite the governor's call for an additional federal commitment to the program. Even with Michigan's contribution, the funding proposed by the administration will make it a significant challenge to maintain current treatment levels or to continue control on the St. Marys River, let alone to invest in alternative control measures.

In the fiscal 1999 submission to government, the commission reported that $15.1 million would be required from the United States in order to carry out a full and comprehensive program as mandated by the Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries. The commission also noted that $12.9 million would be required to deliver the same program (plus sea lamprey control on the St. Marys River) in fiscal 1999 as delivered in fiscal 1995.

All final budget proposals, including the proposed $8.3 million for the commission, obviously reflect a series of difficult trade-offs among competing budgetary needs. As the overall budgetary climate improves, however, it is important to understand what an enhanced level of funding might mean for the commission's work and for the Great Lakes resource. A full program is important to the short-term and long-term health of the Great Lakes fishery. It would allow the commission to deliver full treatment of all required streams, allow the delivery of full control on the St. Marys River, allow the full use of alternative controls (including barriers, traps, and the sterile-male-release-technique), and allow aggressive research into new control methods such as pheromone attractants, enhanced trapping efficiency, fish passage, and sea lamprey life-cycle disrupters.

Statement of Support and Conclusion

Support for the commission's program extends from the scientific community to stakeholders to environmentalists to governments. Consider:

Clearly, the tremendous benefits of sea lamprey control are recognized by Michigan, the scientific community, the angling public, the environmental community, other stakeholders, state and tribal governments, and members of Congress. Although funding for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is, and has been since 1955, a federal responsibility, the State of Michigan has supported this commitment with a good-faith, no-strings-attached monetary contribution.

With a strong state and federal partnership, and with a continued federal commitment to this high priority, we would have the ability to move forward in our collective efforts to enhance and sustain a productive and valuable fishery in the Great Lakes. I thank the committee for considering my testimony. I urge the committee to accept the challenge issued by Governor Engler and to commit to a fully funded program.

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