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The plight of the lamprey: A struggle to survive

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Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 9:25 pm | Updated: 8:16 pm, Wed Feb 12, 2014.

Monday night Science Pub discusses the plight of the lamprey fish species.

Sometimes the smallest piece in the puzzle is the most vital toward its completion. 

Monday night’s event, “Cry of the Pacific Lamprey: What this ancient fish is telling us about our water” at the Old World Deli, was a dynamic discussion on the conservation efforts of the lamprey fish species in Oregon rivers.

The Oregon State University science pub hosted the event with filmmaker Jeremy Monroe and professor of fisheries Carl Schreck as the keynote speakers. Terra Magazine editor Nick Houtman organized the speaker session.

Lampreys are a specific type of fish species, which subside in Oregon rivers and the ocean.

They have do not have jaws, but a suction mouth, which allows them to graze for food and move through rivers. Lampreys are similar to an eel and have seven gills on their body. The species is more than 500 million years old, and they can switch between ocean and river environments. 

Some lampreys never migrate to the ocean and stay as freshwater residents their entire lives. 

Lampreys are usually characterized as parasitic feeders, though they can also be bottom feeders.

“(Lampreys) are an important part of the ecosystem and are a buffer against predation for other species,” Schreck said. “They provide a food source for other species, till the earth. It’s hard to measure their impact.”

In the last 20 years, lampreys have been declining significantly in Oregon rivers due to human activity. 

It is hard for scientists to pinpoint the actual cause of decline.

“The biggest thing is (improving) fish passages for lamprey,” Schreck said. “Lamprey can be lost to a variety of factors, which are beyond our understanding.”

Monroe added that dams and reservoirs can also alter a river’s environment, which could impede the lamprey’s travel and natural habitats.

“Fish ladders and hatcheries do not work for lamprey,” Schreck said.

Monroe and Schreck, along with civic organization Freshwater Illustrated and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, have been initiating efforts to save lampreys in the Oregon river systems.

CRITFIQ is made up of the Columbia River Basin tribes, which are the Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce and Warm Springs,

The Science Pub event showcased the film “Lost Fish,” which details the trials of lamprey survival.

The CRITFIQ tribes are worried that the decline of lampreys will eventually turn into extinction. Lampreys represent a significant part in the culture of the Columbia River Basin tribes.

“Lamprey are an integral part of our culture and designated as food by the creator,” said Umatilla Tribe member Gabe Sheoships. “These fish are part of our heritage.”

Humans share the responsibility, Monroe said, in protecting these fish.

Spencer Ingram

News reporter

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