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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Aquatic Invasive Species Control

Evaluation of Within Stream Lampricide Distribution as a Measure of Treatment Effectiveness in Controlling Larval Sea Lampreys in Great Lakes Tributaries

Principal Investigator: Mike Boogaard

Impact of UMESC Science

The results of this research may lead to a more efficient use of the lampricides used to control lamprey populations in the Great Lakes. If lamprey populations are left uncontrolled, the effects on commercial and sport fisheries in the Great Lakes would be devastating.


The lampricide 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) has been used extensively since 1958 to control populations of the invasive sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in the Great Lakes (Smith and Tibbles 1980).  The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC), a bi-national coalition of representatives from the United States and Canada, is responsible for managing sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes.  Despite the successful use of TFM to control sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes for nearly 50 years, recent trends indicate sea lamprey abundance is increasing and is above target levels in all of the Great Lakes except Lake Ontario where sea lamprey numbers have been at or near targets since 1993. In an effort to increase effectiveness and efficiency in controlling sea lamprey populations, the GLFC implemented a number of changes to the program beginning around 1990.  In its Strategic Vision Plan of 1991, the GLFC set a goal of reducing the reliance on lampricides by 50% by the year 2000 through the use of improved treatment strategies and alternative control techniques such as barriers, trapping, and sterile male release (GLFC 1992).

The influence of water pH on TFM toxicity has been known for some time (Lemaire 1961, Marking and Olson 1975, Dawson et al. 1975) but was not introduced into the program until the early 1990s.  Prior to the 1990s target treatment concentrations were calculated from the measured total alkalinity of the stream water.  Kanayama (1963) correlated TFM toxicity to alkalinity and conductivity and developed a model for estimating effective treatment rates for stream applications. Work by Bills et al. (2003) showed that pH had a much larger affect on TFM toxicity than alkalinity and a regression model using pH and alkalinity was developed to estimate target TFM concentrations. Bills et al. (2003) noted that the total alkalinity model developed by Kanayama (1963) significantly overestimated the sea lamprey minimum lethal concentrations (MLCs) required for effective control of sea lampreys in Great Lakes tributaries. The model takes into account both pH and alkalinity when setting TFM treatment rates and is still in use today. A comparison of both models was conducted on 52 treatments in 1998.  The average values of sea lamprey MLCs developed by the Bills et al. (2003) pH/alkalinity model were 31% less than MLC values determined by the Kanayama (1963) total alkalinity model (Brege et al. 2003). It has been speculated that the decrease in TFM application rates from the implementation of the pH/alkalinity model may have resulted in an increase in residual larval sea lampreys surviving treatment.              

The GLFC Strategic Vision of 1991 also called for reducing lampricide use to protect vulnerable non-target species such as lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens). Boogaard et al. (2003) reported that Young of the Year (YOY) lake sturgeon may be vulnerable to TFM treatments if rates exceeded 1.3 times the sea lamprey MLC.  Typically TFM is applied at 1.5 times the sea lamprey MLC to compensate for loss and attenuation as the lampricide block moves downstream (Brege et al. 2003). As a result, treatment of streams with known lake sturgeon populations was tailored around protection of vulnerable YOY lake sturgeon and target TFM levels were reduced to concentrations that did not exceed 1.2 times the estimated sea lamprey MLC.  It has been speculated that the reduction in TFM rates in lake sturgeon producing streams may be a possible reason for the increase in sea lamprey abundance.  

In an effort to determine if the reduction in TFM use has resulted in increased sea lamprey abundance the proposed study will evaluate the in-stream distribution of the lampricide TFM during enhanced treatment operations.  The lampricide TFM is typically applied to sea lamprey infested streams for 12 hours to achieve a 9 hour block of chemical at concentrations lethal to sea lamprey larvae.  It has been suggested that some areas of a stream may not be receiving the full 9 hours of TFM at lethal levels during normal treatment operations thereby increasing the likelihood that some larval sea lampreys may be surviving treatment.  Preliminary larval sea lamprey size comparison toxicity studies suggest larger larvae (>120 mm) and transformed larvae may require a longer exposure to TFM than smaller larvae to assure lethality.  In these exposures, larger and transformed larvae often survived until the last hour of a 12 h exposure indicating some may survive treatment if a full 9 h of TFM at target concentrations is not achieved (M.A. Boogaard, unpublished data).

Three options are currently being considered to increase treatment efficiency:

  1. increase the target TFM concentration by a factor of 1.1,
  2. extend the duration of the chemical block from the current 9 h to 12 h by increasing the application duration from 12 h to 15 h,
  3. increase effort on secondary applications to backwater areas. 

The three enhancement options were developed by a group of treatment supervisors, control experts, and researchers at GLFC workshops held in February 2006.  We evaluated the in-stream distribution of lampricide by monitoring TFM concentrations in several areas of a stream under the first two enhanced treatment options.  Secondary applications may include application of granular bayluscide, which cannot be measured quantitatively. As a result, we chose not to include this option in this evaluation. This study follows the methods described in the Young et al. proposal “Determining the impact of increasing lampricide treatment effort on sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes” with a few modifications. First, the Young et al. proposal calls for caging sea lamprey larvae to confirm that TFM levels are at or above targets at the designated sampling sites.  We feel that logistical concerns coupled with questions of the validity of data obtained from caged studies due to increased stress precludes us from using caged organisms as a means of confirming that TFM levels are lethal to sea lampreys. This information can be obtained by comparing TFM concentration data from the sample sites to target levels established prior to treatment. Second, we feel the simultaneous application of dye along with TFM would not be needed.  Again, this information could be obtained from TFM concentration data from the sample sites.


  1. Determine if increasing the target TFM concentration by a factor of 1.1 significantly increases the distribution of the lethal dose of lampricide at a within stream scale compared to normal treatment operations.
  2. Determine if an increase in treatment duration from 12 h to 15 h significantly increases the distribution of the lethal dose of lampricide at a within stream scale compared to normal treatment operations.


Bills, T.D., Boogaard, M.A., Johnson, D.A., Brege, D.C., Scholefield, R.J., Westman, W.R., and Stephens, B.E.  2003.  Development of a Treatment Model for Applications of TFM to Streams Tributary to the Great Lakes.  J. Great Lakes Res. 29 (Suppl. 1):510:520.

Boogaard, M.A., T.D. Bills, and D.A. Johnson.  2003.  Acute toxicity of TFM and a TFM/niclosamide mixture to selected species of fish, including lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) and mudpuppies (Necturus maculosus) in laboratory and field exposures.  J. Great Lakes Res. 29 (Suppl. 1):529-541.

Brege, D.C., D.M. Davis, J.H. Genovese, T.C. McAuley, B.E. Stephens, and R.W. Westman.  2003.  Factors responsible for the reduction in quantity of the lampricide, TFM, applied annually in streams tributary to the Great Lakes 1979 to1999. J. Great Lakes Res. 29 (Suppl. 1):500-509.

Dawson, V.K., K.B. Cumming, and P.A. Gilderhuis.  1975.  Laboratory efficacy of 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) as a lampricide.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Investigations in Fish Control 63.

Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC).  1992.  Strategic vision of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission for the decade of the 1990s.  Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Kanayama, R.K.  1963.  The use of alkalinity and conductivity measurements to estimate concentrations of 3-trifluormethyl-4-nitrophenol required for treating lamprey streams.  Great Lakes Fish. Comm. Tech. Rep. 7.

LeMaire, E.H.  1961.  Experiments to determine the effect of pH on the biological activity of two chemicals toxic to ammocoetes.  Fisheries Research Board of Canada, Biological Report Series No. 690.  3 pp.

Marking, L.L., and Olson, L.E.  1975.  Toxicity of the lampricide 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) to non-target fish in static tests.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Investigations in Fish Control No. 60.

Smith B.R. and J.J. Tibbles.  1980.  Sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) in Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior: history of invasion and control, 1936-78.  Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 37:1780-1801.

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