Control of invasive sea lampreys using the piscicides TFM and niclosamide: Toxicology, successes & future prospects

Aquat Toxicol. 2019 Jun:211:235-252. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2018.12.012. Epub 2018 Dec 21.


The invasion of the Laurentian Great Lakes of North America by sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) in the early 20th century contributed to the depletion of commercial, recreational and culturally important fish populations, devastating the economies of communities that relied on the fishery. Sea lamprey populations were subsequently controlled using an aggressive integrated pest-management program which employed barriers and traps to prevent sea lamprey from migrating to their spawning grounds and the use of the piscicides (lampricides) 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) and niclosamide to eliminate larval sea lampreys from their nursery streams. Although sea lampreys have not been eradicated from the Great Lakes, populations have been suppressed to less than 10% of their peak numbers in the mid-1900s. The ongoing use of lampricides provides the foundation for sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes, one of the most successful invasive species control programs in the world. Yet, significant gaps remain in our understanding of how lampricides are taken-up and handled by sea lampreys, how lampricides exert their toxic effects, and how they adversely affect non-target invertebrate and vertebrates species. In this review we examine what has been learned about the uptake, handling and elimination, and the mode of TFM and niclosamide toxicity in lampreys and in non-target animals, particularly in the last 10 years. It is now clear that the mode of TFM toxicity is the same in non-target fishes and lampreys, in which TFM interferes with oxidative phosphorylation by the mitochondria leading to decreased ATP production. Vulnerability to TFM is related to abiotic factors such as water pH and alkalinity, which we propose changes the relative amounts of the bioavailable un-ionized form of TFM in the gill microenvironment. Niclosamide, which is also a molluscicide used to control snails in areas prone to schistosomiasis infections of humans, also likely works by uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation, but less is known about other aspects of its toxicology. The effects of TFM include reductions in energy stores, particularly glycogen and high energy phosphagens. However, non-target fishes readily recover from sub-lethal TFM exposure as demonstrated by the rapid restoration of energy stores and clearance of TFM. Although both TFM and niclosamide are non-persistent in the environment and critical for sea lamprey control, increasing public and institutional concerns about pesticides in the environment makes it imperative to explore other means of sea lamprey control. Accordingly, we also address possible "next-generation" strategies of sea lamprey control including genetic tools such as RNA interference and CRISPR-Cas9 to impair critical physiological processes (e.g. reproduction, digestion, metamorphosis) in lamprey, and the use of green chemistry to develop more environmentally benign chemical methods of sea lamprey control.

Keywords: 3-Trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM); ATP; Bayluscide®; Biotransformation; Gills; Glycogen; Integrated pest management; Invasive species; Lampricides; Laurentian Great Lakes; Mitochondria; Niclosamide; Non-target effects; Oxidative phosphorylation; Pesticides; Phosphocreatine; Sea lamprey control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Introduced Species*
  • Lakes / chemistry
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Niclosamide / toxicity*
  • Nitrophenols / toxicity*
  • North America
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Petromyzon / growth & development*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Nitrophenols
  • Pesticides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Niclosamide
  • 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol