BOC approves application for merganser control permit

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Courtesy photo

Hen mergansers and ducklings, like the group shown above, will begin disappearing from the waters of Intermediate Lake as early as next summer if the Intermediate Lake Association receives a permit for a merganser control program in the hopes of controlling swimmer's itch. The Antrim County Board of Commissioners signed off on the permit application last week during it bi-monthly meeting.


BELLAIRE – During their bi-monthly meeting last week, the Antrim County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a request from the Intermediate Lake Association for a resolution approving an application for a state issued permit that, if approved, will allow for control of mergansers on Intermediate Lake.

If granted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the permit will allow contractors hired by the lake association permission to remove mergansers, a species of native waterfowl, from the lake for the next four years in an effort to control the scourge of swimmer's itch. 

Mergansers, which like cormorants are fish-eating waterfowl, are believed to be one of the carriers of the small flatworm that starts the cycle of swimmer's itch, a harmless and temporary, yet irritating, skin condition suffered by some swimmers in warm water lakes like Intermediate and others on the Chain of Lakes.

The DNR began issuing the limited permits – some of which allow mergansers, a migratory species, to be killed – in 2018 at the request of lake associations hoping to reduce complaints about the summer time problem.

Most lake associations, however, have opted for the type of permit which allows hen mergansers and young ducklings to be captured alive and relocated to another body of water that is not believed to hold populations of native snails in which larvae from the eggs carried in the feces of waterfowl like mergansers, as well as other birds, enter to grow and become parasites called "cercariae."

It is the mature cercaria which can enter the skin and become swimmer's itch.

Some groups, such as the Lake Leelanau Lake Association, have also opted to seal up merganser nests with a fabric material after the brood has hatched and left the nest, making it impossible for the hen to use the nest again the following year.

Besides the Lake Leelanau association, property owner groups on Glen Lake, Crystal Lake, Lime Lake, and Higgins Lake secured permits for merganser removal in 2018, with some this year reporting what they believe is limited success via reports of lower than usual incidences of swimmer's itch last summer.

The groups are hoping that the young merganser ducklings have not yet had a chance to "imprint" on the lake they were hatched on, and will adapt to life on the body of water they are moved to.

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