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Public should be reminded not to disturb spawning sea lampreys in the Connecticut River basin

Sea lampreys are native to the Connecticut River and benefit the aquatic ecosystem

VermontBiz The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department advises anglers and the public not to disturb spawning sea lampreys that may currently be in the Connecticut River and several of its tributaries.

“Sea lampreys are native to the Connecticut River basin and play an important role in the ecosystem,” says Lael Will, fisheries biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

Photo: Sea lampreys are native to the Connecticut River basin and play an important role in the ecosystem. VTF&W photo.

Vermont also has a separate population of sea lamprey that is actively managed as a nuisance species in Lake Champlain. The different management goals for these two populations of sea lamprey in Vermont can cause confusion. We believe it is important to highlight and contrast the conservation value of the Connecticut River sea lamprey, educate the public, and encourage people to do their part to protect this important fish population.”

“If you happen to see a spawning sea lamprey or the carcass of a sea lamprey, don't be alarmed,” Will said. “The fish provide a number of important ecological benefits and are considered a species of greatest conservation need in both Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Sea lampreys spawn each spring in the main branch of the Connecticut River upstream to Wilder Dam and in many of its tributaries, including the West River, Williams River, Black River and White River.

When adult sea lampreys return to freshwater to spawn, they are not parasites and die shortly after spawning. Their carcasses play a crucial role in the cycling of important marine nutrients in freshwater ecosystems.

In the Connecticut River, lamprey larvae spend the first few years of their lives in freshwater. They remain sedentary and bury themselves in sandy soil while filtering detritus from the water to feed. At around five years of age, they metamorphose into juveniles and migrate to the sea, where they attach themselves to and live off fish as parasites. Lampreys, in turn, are a food source for a variety of fish, marine mammals and birds in the estuary and marine areas.

Anadromous sea lampreys have lived in the Atlantic for over 350 million years. They have co-evolved with their oceanic hosts and their populations are considered to be in equilibrium.

The species is currently managed by the Connecticut River Migratory Fish Restoration Cooperative, which includes four state agencies, two federal agencies and members of the public. Among other things, Vermont Fish and Wildlife is working to improve fish migration routes in the Connecticut River basin so that native sea lampreys can successfully complete their migrations to their spawning grounds.

“In 2023, more than 21,000 sea lampreys passed through the Holyoke Dam in Massachusetts and more than 8,000 passed through the Vernon Dam,” Will said. “Our goal is to continue to improve fish migration and flow in the river to not only encourage lamprey spawning, but also support all migratory fish species.”

Photo: Sea lampreys are native to the Connecticut River basin and play an important role in the ecosystem. VTF&W photo.

Photo: Sea lampreys are native to the Connecticut River basin and play an important role in the ecosystem. VTF&W photo.

For more information about Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s various fisheries management programs, visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

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Anna Harden

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