President Obama flirting with a Great Lakes disaster

President Obama’s 2012 budget would cut funding for sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes, a move that would devastate the lakes’ $7 billion fishery.

The president has proposed cutting $3 million from the $18.7 million spent annually by the U.S. to keep the blood-sucking lampreys in check.

Such a move would, without question, allow sea lamprey to increase their numbers and kill countless lake trout, whitefish and salmon in the Great Lakes.

Sea lamprey invaded the Great Lakes 50 years ago through the Erie and Welland canals, artificial canals that allowed ships and invasive species to bypass Niagara Falls and reach lakes Erie, Huron, Superior and Michigan.

Although it looks like an eel, the sea lamprey is actually a fish.

Each one of the unsightly beasts — which cling to fish and suck their blood and bodily fluids — can kill as much as 40 pounds of fish per year. A female lamprey can produce as many as 10,000 eggs.

Sea lamprey nearly eliminated lake trout in the Great Lakes in the 1950s and ’60s, before the government worked with private companies to develop a chemical that kills lampreys without causing much collateral damage.

Granted, the war on sea lamprey is costly; it is also eternal. But the ecological and economic benefits have been huge.

Controlling sea lamprey has allowed sport and commercial fish species to recover, which has had tremendous economic benefits for communities around the Great Lakes.

The proposed funding cut comes as the number of lamprey in Lake Michigan is increasing.

Federal officials estimate there are 90,000 sea lampreys in Lake Michigan, about 50 percent more than the goal set by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. That population will increase dramatically if the president and Congress reduce funding for the control program.

This is not rhetoric aimed at protecting some politician’s pet project.

Sea lamprey are currently the single greatest threat to salmon, lake trout and whitefish in the Great Lakes. We know that reduced funding for sea lamprey control will mean more lampreys, which will thrive at the expense of the Great Lakes fishery.

There are plenty of areas where the president and Congress can trim the federal budget without sucking the life from one of America’s most valuable fisheries.

If you value an ecologically healthy Great Lakes, take a minute to call or e-mail your representative in Congress and insist that current funding levels for the sea lamprey control program remain intact in 2012.