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Letter: About the lamprey

This is a reply to a letter by Dick Starkey, Greenfield, who opposes a fish ladder for the Mill Street Dam partially on the basis that adult sea lamprey (lamprey eels to local folks) will (1) need to feed so they attack and feed on Green River fish and (2) they may turn their “voracious appetite” toward attacking people in the river.

If these observations were correct, Mr. Starkey (and others with similar opinions) would have a good argument against the fish ladder. However, much of Mr. Starkey’s information is from Wikipedia, which apparently only contains information on land-locked sea lamprey (Great Lakes), not the anadromous (or sea run) sea lamprey from the Atlantic Coast. Although a few anadromous adults may attach to fish (rarely to humans) in fresh water, they cannot feed because months before entering the Connecticut River, their stomachs shrink to pencil lead size to make room for expanding sex gonads. So, adults in the Green River do not feed on fish or people but rarely may “hitch a ride.” Also, some of the 6-inch-long juveniles that migrate downstream to Long Island Sound may also attach to fish ... but again, they do not feed on fish until they reach the river estuary. All anadromous sea lamprey biology shows clearly that the species is a keystone species for our nutrient-poor river ecosystems. Thus, in the Fort River, where I estimate about 800 to 1,000 adults spawn most years, their corpses contribute almost a ton of nutrients and minerals absorbed at sea to this small stream. Further, the small larvae, which remain in the stream for about four years, are eaten by all stream fishes. Providing passage for adult sea lamprey at the Mill Street Dam would be a valuable stream ecosystem restoration activity benefiting the entire aquatic community.



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