A bill circulated by a Republican lawmaker aims to control sea lamprey — eel-like parasites that look like monsters, attack trout and other fish, and could suck the lifeblood out of the Great Lakes ecosystem.
The toothy invasive species threatens the commercial and recreational fisheries and tourism industry, said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay.
“They’re not pleasant little critters,” Cowles said. “This is another one of these rotten invasive species invading our Great Lakes.”
Cowles said he was fishing with friends last summer in Sturgeon Bay and spotted a lamprey lying in their charter fishing boat. He said he remembered seeing them while fishing with his father when he was a child and started asking questions — only to hear reports that sea lamprey attacks have been rising in Wisconsin.
Sea lamprey, which are typically 12-20 inches long, use their circular mouths lined with rows of teeth to strike and hold fish, making holes in the victim as they suck their blood and bodily fluids. Some fish die immediately or from resulting infections, while others survive with circular scars left on their bodies.
Cowles’ legislation would provide funding to the state Department of Natural Resources for increased sea lamprey management in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and for fixing a lamprey barrier on the Kewaunee River in northeastern Wisconsin and building another barrier on the Nemadji River, which flows into Lake Superior at Superior. It would also fund stream surveys in 40 Lake Superior tributaries and 80 Lake Michigan tributaries that haven’t yet been surveyed.
The bill would require the DNR to give priority to spend certain amounts of money to match federal funding for sea lamprey control projects and would require the DNR to spend some of the money it receives from the sale of two-day fishing licenses and Great Lakes trout and salmon stamps for sea lamprey control, an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau said.
Cowles has not yet officially introduced the bill, but it appears to so far have little opposition among environmentalists and anglers.
“I’m very glad that he’s taking notice,” said Shahla Werner, director of the Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter. “This seems like a very good proposal.”
Jeff Smith, chairman of the legislative committee for Wisconsin Trout Unlimited, said the group isn’t taking a position on the bill because trout and salmon in lakes Superior and Michigan are generally invasive themselves, and the group focuses its efforts on protecting native fish.
“More power to him,” Smith said. “We’re certainly not opposed.”
A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker had no comment on the bill.