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A sucker born every minute? Synthetic sex scent might just limit lamprey libido

Andrea Miehls

There's a new tool available to control the sea lamprey population in the Great Lakes.

For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a synthetic mating lure to help trap sea lampreys before they spawn.

The mating pheromone is a scent released by male sea lampreys to lure females to nesting sites. 

"We want them to think that they're about to find a mate, and then we have a surprise in store for them," said Marc Gaden, communications director of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. "They might be swimming into a trap or into a stream that doesn't have any spawning habitat."

According to Gaden, sea lampreys are a huge problem for the Great Lakes.  He said they entered the Great Lakes in the early 1900s through shipping channels and have caused enormous economic and ecological damage, including severely depleting the native fish population. 

"Left uncontrolled, lampreys killed more than 100 million pounds of Great Lakes fish. So lamprey control is something that's incredibly important," said Gaden. "The fishery is worth about $7 billion, and we have to take steps to keep this destructive invader in check."

Synthetic pheromones will join lampricides and barriers as weapons in the battle to control the sea lamprey population in the Great Lakes, according to Gaden. He said in field tests, traps baited with pheromones caught twice as many lampreys as those without.