The following Q&A is courtesy of Jeanette Burkhardt, watershed planner for Yakama Nation Fisheries. Wet Planet is proud to partner with Jeanette on projects like this blog series and RiverFest.
o Ancient species—Pacific lamprey is 450 million years old! No bones, jaws, scales, and breathe through gill holes, rather than through the mouth. Not ESA-listed, but considered “species of concern” due to declining populations in Columbia River & tributaries. Much still unknown about it.
o Larval lamprey (ammocoetes) drift downstream from the nest in which they were born, burrow into fine sediment, and live 5-7 years in the river filter-feeding. Then they metamorphose into macrophthalmia (juveniles), develop teeth and eyes, and head out to the ocean.
o Adults live 2-3 years (best wild guess) in the ocean as parasites on marine life—use their rows of sharp teeth and suction mouths to latch onto hosts and feed off their body fluids and blood. Adults return to freshwater to spawn and stop feeding.They enter freshwater Feb-June (as ~10-year-olds), cueing into larval lamprey pheromones, stay until the following spring to spawn in similar locations as salmon (gravel bottoms, upstream end of riffles above larval habitat=fine sediments), then die shortly thereafter. (Several species of lamprey use fine sediments in the lower White Salmon to rear.)
o Pacific lamprey is an important cultural and ecosystem player that is often forgotten:
- Provide buffer for salmon predation (food source for many salmon predators, preferred by sea lions to salmon)
- Deliver marine-derived nutrients to freshwater systems in spring/summer when nutrients are low (adults’ bodies break down after spawning)
- Larvae recycle nutrients by filter-feeding
- Adults are rich food and medicine for Columbia River tribes.
o Use suction mouth to climb up waterfalls and move rocks to build nests (both sexes build the nests). Keep an eye out for them climbing Big Brother—a prize to anyone who documents the first lamprey climbing the falls!
- Columbia River tribes are driving research on and restoration of this fish, since it is culturally so important and not valued by sport and (non-tribal) commercial fishery
- Lamprey! (USFWS information page about Pacific lamprey)
- Video: Hanging On: Why Pacific Lamprey Matter to Columbia Basin Tribes – HD VERSION
- Video: Getting Attached: Understanding the Plight of Pacific Lamprey – HD VERSION
- Identification of Lamprey in Columbia Basin: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/23266283/Lamprey%20ID.pdf
- Demystifying Lamprey (general bio info): https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/23266283/demystifying%20lamprey.ppt
- Yakama Nation artificial propagation of Pacific Lamprey: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/23266283/Pacific%20Lamprey%20Art.%20Prop.%20Yakima%20BSWMC.pptx
- Yakama Nation research on larval lamprey entrainment in irrigation diversions: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/23266283/Larval%20Lamprey%20Entrainment%20in%20Diversions.pptx
Jeanette Burkhardt is a watershed planner for Yakama Nation Fisheries, a program of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, working in the Tribe’s southern ceded lands, which includes the White Salmon River. From its inception in 1983, Yakama Nation Fisheries has employed scientific expertise in concert with traditional ecological knowledge to develop innovative projects and partnerships credited with restoring culturally important fish runs in the Columbia River. Yakama Nation Fisheries is headquartered on the Yakama Reservation, but maintains a number of field offices, and manages numerous projects across the Columbia River mainstem and sub-basins (White Salmon, Little White Salmon, Wind, Klickitat, Rock Creek, Yakima, Wenatchee, Entiat, Chelan, and Methow). Yakama Nation Fisheries focuses on culturally important fish, including: Chinook, Sockeye, steelhead, Coho, Pacific lamprey, and White Sturgeon. More information is available at: http://www.yakamafish-nsn.