W von Papineäu
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TIMES-ARGUS (Barre, Vermont) 09 October 09 Lampricide kills salamanders in river - By some estimates, as many as 512 mudpuppies died after lampricide treatment in the Lamoille River. (Louis Porter)
Montpelier: When the state treated the Lamoille River with a chemical to kill sea lamprey last week, a large number of mudpuppies, a prehistoric-looking creature that is the second rarest salamander in Vermont, were killed as well.
Final numbers are not in, but by some estimates as many as 512 mudpuppies died after the Lamoille treatment. Only two dozen mudpuppies have been killed by previous lampricide treatments in Vermont, which are meant to kill parasitic lamprey that harm or kill fish in Lake Champlain.
The reclusive mudpuppies, which can grow to be 14 inches long and have a branching network of external gills extending from their throats, are a species of special concern and of greatest conservation need in Vermont, meaning they are rare and biologists carefully watch their status. They are not legally protected or have threatened or endangered species status, although in the past some have suggested they should be given protection in the state.
The numbers killed are higher than he is comfortable with, said Jim Andrews, an adjunct professor at the University of Vermont and the coordinator of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. The response by the state to such a die-off of mudpuppies would likely be quite different if a private company, rather than the government, had caused it, Andrews said.
"The assumption is that there is no real cost involved" in the lampricide treatment, Andrews said. "There is a cost."
But there is also a cost in not using the chemical and other means of lowering sea lamprey populations, said Vermont Fish and Game Commissioner Wayne Laroche.
A variety of fish species are harmed or killed by lamprey. Some, like lake trout, are valuable game fish while others — the Lake Sturgeon, for instance — are endangered, Laroche said.
Laroche said the treatment to control lampreys is not just about the economic benefit of sport fishing to Vermont but about maintaining a balance of all species — including sea lamprey which although native to the Lake Champlain basin, have dramatically increased in number as more silt has provided more spawning grounds.
"Lake sturgeon are endangered, they have been devastated," Laroche said. "Sea lamprey, if left unchecked, could cause extinction of the natural genetic population left in Lake Champlain."
Lampricide is applied to rivers in the Lake Champlain basin by Vermont Fish and Wildlife Dept. in partnership with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to a recent statement from the Vermont department "under the sea lamprey control program, TFM (3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol) is applied in precise concentrations to the streams in a continuous, metered manner over a 12-hour period in order to kill the immature, larval form of the sea lamprey.
The application, according to that statement, should have "little or no effects on populations of other aquatic species."
But the number of mudpuppies killed in the Lamoille during the lampricide treatment a week ago raises questions about how well biologists understand the population of the salamander, the effect of the chemical used to control lamprey and the potential that other stresses can put the creatures at risk during such treatments, Andrews said.
"These are complex systems we are tinkering with," he said.
"It is a large number," Laroche said of the mudpuppies killed. But, he added, "I am not alarmed."
The large number of mudpuppies killed might mean that the Lamoille — which has never been treated with lampricide before — has a very high population of the mottled brown salamanders, he said.
"We could have an abundance of mudpuppies and just have a situation where it is difficult to find them and catch them," Laroche said.
Laroche said as the data and research on the most recent treatment with lampricide comes in it will be evaluated objectively and thoroughly.
"If we find out something went wrong on this treatment we are going to make sure it doesn't happen again," Laroche said.
But — in part because of the effect on the sport fishery — lamprey control is a very political issue, one that scientists in the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department can be afraid to speak out about, said Andrews.
Mudpuppies are not the only species besides sea lamprey killed by past lampricide applications. Other kinds of lamprey that do not pose the same risk to fish, including the endangered brook lamprey, have also been killed, although apparently not in the most recent application.
"It doesn't distinguish between sea lamprey and the other species," said Andrews.
But Laroche said the department does what it can to avoid killing those other lamprey species.
"We are doing everything we can to minimize the impact on brook lamprey," Laroche said.
Lampricide kills salamanders in river
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