This week, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are co-sponsoring a summit in order to solidify at least some basic regional and rangewide commitments to Pacific lamprey conservation actions. The summit was developed to address the cultural significance of Pacific lamprey to Native Americans, their biological significance to the river systems of the West Coast, and the continuing decline in lamprey numbers and distribution throughout their entire geographic range. (http://www.critfc.org/vision_conf/lamprey_vision.html)
Pacific lamprey, an eel-like fish, is tied to wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers in remarkable ways.
Biologically, lamprey “eels” act as a buffer between salmon and predators. Salmon eat lamprey in-river when they’re small, and later out in the ocean, lamprey often attach to salmon. Both anadromous fish, they have a very mutually symbiotic relationship.
Lamprey are one of the Basin’s most ancient species and are often considered to be a “canary in the coal mine.” Their loss in numbers is a sharp warning to Tribal members, conservationist, biologists, and business owners across the Northwest who are concerned about our ecosystem and economy. Lamprey themselves are as important, if not more important, culturally to Northwest tribes than salmon; their dwindling numbers are of serious consideration to all who call the Northwest home.
We commend CRITFC and USFWS for organizing the Lamprey Summit and bringing parties together to discuss the available science and options. While we don’t think it is enough and these eels need even more help, it is a step in the right direction for Pacific lamprey and we are hopeful that these discussions will lead to additional measures that will help both the eels and their salmon counterparts. Now, if the region could bring folks together to think about similar actions and commitments for wild salmon, then we might be on might be on a path that could one day see our eels and salmon swimming through our rivers and feeding both tribal and non-tribal families alike.