Redefining the Classroom

Angler assistance needed in whitefish/sea lamprey study

Posted: August 3rd, 2012

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. -- Lake Superior State University seeks assistance from anglers as it works with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point this summer and fall to study how lake whitefish interact with sea lamprey.

Anglers can assist in the study by donating sea lamprey they find attached to the fish they catch. They may also donate whitefish caught during the open water and ice fishing seasons.

The study, "Feasibility of holding wild-caught lake whitefish and sea lamprey for parasite-host interaction studies," seeks to determine the conditions under which lake whitefish may be transferred from the wild and held in captivity, and if and how sea lamprey and lake whitefish may be used for parasite-host interaction evaluations.

LAMPREY RUN -- After more than 20 years, LSSU Aquatic Research Laboratory Manager Roger Greil (at rear of boat) and former student Greg Fischer are still working on sea lamprey research together. In this photo taken during the summer of 1991, Greil and Fischer are headed up the St. Mary's River to check sea lamprey traps with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Now, the two are part of a multi-agency study that seeks to find out how lake whitefish are affected by sea lampreys while also determining how well lampreys and whitefish may be kept in captivity for study. Today, Fischer is manager of the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-quality copy of this photo may be found here

"Very little work has been done on whitefish–lamprey interaction," said Roger Greil, manager of LSSU's Aquatic Research Laboratory, which is participating in the study. He said anglers can call him and he will pick up whitefish or lampreys or they can drop them off at the lab. Greil may be reached at 906-635-1949 at work or by calling 906-630-7259.

"The lamprey and whitefish need to be in good shape in order for us to use them," Greil said. "They need to be alive."

The rationale for the study states: "The probability that an individual fish will survive an attack from a sea lamprey is a key component to sea lamprey damage assessments" and notes that while the interaction between sea lamprey and lake trout has been studied extensively, only a single "mark-recapture study" has been done on whitefish since the 1960s.

"Laboratory research has not been conducted to support or refute the results of the tagging study, which was completed when ecological conditions greatly differed from the Great Lakes of today," the proposal states.

"The DNR works cooperatively with other governments to manage the whitefish stocks in the upper Great Lakes," said Dave Caroffino, a biologist with the Michigan DNR and one of the lead researchers in the project. "As we assess these populations, a key component is our ability to accurately estimate sea lamprey-induced mortality. This research should help improve those estimates and our resulting management of this valuable species."

STICKY BUSINESS -- Gregory Klingler, fishery biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marquette, shows several sea lamprey clinging to the inside of a plastic bin after being pulled from lamprey traps in the St. Mary's River during the summer of 1991. The Fish and Wildlife Service is one of four agencies examining the interaction between whitefish and sea lamprey over the next year. (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-quality copy of this photo may be found here

Complicating studies of this nature is the fact that lake whitefish are difficult to keep alive in captivity. The study's leaders said this may be one reason why research on survivability has not been pursued.

"We seek to determine the conditions under which whitefish can be moved from the wild to a controlled setting and kept alive long enough for experimentation. The objectives of this pilot study would allow a future proposal to address specific interactions between these species."

Researchers say the study is a pilot project that is necessary to assist in any larger studies that would assess damage from fish caused by lamprey attacks. It will lead to a better assessment of the fish community objective for whitefish in Lake Huron.

If the captive whitefish and sea lamprey do well, the researchers will propose a larger-scale study in 2014.

The study has a strong LSSU presence. In addition to Greil, who graduated from LSSU in 1988, the leaders include Caroffino, a 2004 LSSU alumnus with the Michigan DNR, Ted Treska of the USFWS, and Greg Fischer, a 1994 LSSU graduate who manages the Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

For more information, or to donate fish or lampreys, contact Greil at 906-635-1949 or 906-630-7259, or Find more information on the LSSU Aquatic Research Laboratory at More information on the study may also be obtained from Caroffino at 231-547-2914 or -LSSU-

CONTACT: Tom Pink, 906-635-2315,; John Shibley, 635-2314,; Roger Greil, 635-1949,, Dave Caroffino, 231-547-2914,