Sea lamprey, research on pheromones in fish.

MN Impact: Sea Lamprey Control in the Great Lakes

September 13, 2018


Research on aquatic invasive species and/or water quality will improve the overall health of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers.


The sea lamprey, an ancient jawless fish, invaded the Great Lakes early in the 20th century and soon laid waste to stocks of lake trout, whitefish, and other commercially valuable fish species. In 1955 the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC), treaty organization between the US and Canada was formed to solve this problem and has spent millions of dollars each year attempting to control sea lamprey and developing new means to do so.

What has been done

In 2005, after sixteen years of research, Peter Sorensen and his team discovered, identified and synthesized petromyzonamine disulfate, the primary constituent of the sea lamprey migratory pheromone along with two other components. This novel compound was the first migratory pheromone ever identified in fish and remains the most potent odorant ever identified in fish (1 gram activates 10 billion liters of water). It was patented and a license granted gratis to the GLFC. This effort triggered a major research and management initiative in the Great Lakes by the GLFC that continues to this day.


The GLFC's "integrated" control project (which includes baiting with pheromones) has led to a documented average decrease of 86 percent of the sea lamprey population across the five lakes as of 2017. Of the over 180 non-native species in the Great Lakes basin, sea lampreys are the only invader that is controlled basin-wide and are the only example in the world of a successful aquatic vertebrate pest control program at an ecosystem scale.