The plight of Pacific lamprey Entosphenus tridentatus (known by the Nez Perce as "eels") is dire. Eels have traditionally and historically been a central part of Nez Perce culture for subsistence, ceremonial and medicinal purposes. They also are an important component of the ecosystem, serving as a prey base and as a source of marine derived nutrients to support other valuable resources important to the Nez Perce Tribe, including salmon, steelhead, elk, deer and birds of prey.
The precipitous decline of the Pacific lamprey within the Columbia/Snake Basin is alarming. Day counts at Bonneville have declined from more than 350,000 adults in the 1960s to less than 9,000 in 2009. Mainstem dam adult and juvenile fish-way facilities were designed to pass salmon and steelhead, and are ill-designed to pass Pacific lamprey. Only about 25% of adult lamprey that pass Bonneville Dam are detected at the next upstream dam (The Dalles). Day counts at Lower Granite have declined from over 1,000 adults in the late 1990s to 12 in 2009.
Across the numerous and expansive subbasins within the Snake Basin, where they once flourished, their status has been ranked by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as either presumed extirpated, possibly extirpated or critically imperiled. Mainstem passage is the most serious threat impacting Pacific lamprey in the Snake Basin, and throughout the Columbia River region. The Nez Perce Tribe is on the brink of loosing this treasured resource. Substantive and timely actions are paramount to avoid the extinction of the eels in Nez Perce Country. Major modifications to the hydrosystem to accommodate lamprey will likely be a huge and costly undertaking, and will take considerable time to implement.
In the wake of such formidable challenges and egregious losses, a multi-prong restoration strategy is necessary. The strategy outlined below closely ties with implementation of the 2011 Tribal Pacific Lamprey Restoration plan developed by Member Tribes of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) (document link).
This focuses on active engagement and regular participation in the various regional forums that address the planning, prioritization, implementation and operation of features at mainstem dams to improve upstream and downstream fish passage. Forums include, but are not limited to, the Fish Passage Advisory Committee, Technical Management Team, System Configuration Team, Fish Passage and Operations Committee, Fish Facility Design Review Work Group, Study Review Work Group, Lamprey Technical Work Group, CRITFC Lamprey Task Force, other pertinent CRITFC forums, Corps of Engineers/Tribal Lamprey Work Group, US Fish and Wildlife Service Lamprey Conservation Initiative and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
- Mainstem Hydrosystem Configuration and Operations
To mitigated for poor adult passage past the 8 mainstem dams and reservoirs lying in the path of access to Snake River spawning and rearing, this focuses on translocating adult lamprey (primarily from Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams) for ultimate release in suitable Snake River tributaries. Fish collected at mainstem dams over-winter at the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery adult lamprey holding site and are released the following spring. From 2007 through 2012, a total of 800 of adult lamprey have been released in the Snake Basin, compared to 218 adult lamprey counted during the day passing Lower Granite dam over the same period. Adult lamprey have been translocated to seven Snake River tributaries. Larval production detected in Lolo Creek and Newsome Creek, both streams previously declared devoid of lamprey, offers encouraging results. Reestablishing lamprey production in these streams not only helps guard against widespread extirpation in the Snake Basin, but also maintains pheromone attractants emitted by the larvae that are believed to attract migrating adults to these areas. It also helps restore the important role of the lamprey in the ecosystem.
Through formal presentations, demonstrations at schools and informative sessions at various public events, the objective is to generally increase awareness of Pacific lamprey...its plight, cultural significance and uses, and ecosystem values. The perception of Pacific lamprey as a valued native species in the Pacific Northwest has been tainted and muddled by the lamprey eradication program in the Great Lakes region directed at the non-native sea lamprey. The dissemination of information on the life history and values of the native Pacific lamprey is intended to lessen these misconceptions and gain an appreciation for the species.