Environment

Columbia Lamprey Population Appears To Be In Danger

OPB | July 6, 2010 2:11 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:07 a.m. | Portland, OR

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The latest numbers suggest the Columbia River is swimming with migrating fish this year.

More than half a million sockeye and chinook have reached Bonneville Dam. But Oregon tribal fishermen are seeing a potential crash in the number of lamprey in the Columbia River.


As recently as 60 years ago, tribal officials say lamprey at Bonneville Dam numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Those numbers declined in recent years, with an average June earlier this decade bringing about 20,000 lamprey to Bonneville.

Now, those numbers appear headed off a cliff. This June, officials counted one tenth of those recent figures: only around 1300.

Archaeologists say that lamprey have been around at least 400 million years – meaning they were on earth two or three hundred million years before the dinosaurs.

In more recent human history, tribes in the Northwest have used the eel for subsistence, and ceremonies. 

A tribal representative says there aren’t enough lamprey in much of the Northwest to catch any at all.

She says Willamette Falls is the only place to find enough lamprey to support the traditional early July harvest.

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