The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released its “Pacific Lamprey Assessment and Template for Conservation Measures,” the first phase of a broader initiative to conserve and restore the species throughout its range.
One of the oldest fish on Earth, the species is found across much of the Pacific Northwest and California.
The assessment is a comprehensive effort to inventory Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) distribution, recent population trends and data gaps in ecological and life-history knowledge, and provide a catalogue of the threats to the species by geographic location.
The assessment provides guidance for collaborative research, monitoring and evaluation, as well as a risk assessment and framework to help prioritize threats and actions to conserve lamprey.
The document was drafted with collaboration between the Service and partners, particularly West Coast Native American tribes, who provided data, guidance and feedback.
“Hopefully, there is a day, years from now, when natural resource professionals, conservationists and tribal members breathe a collective sigh of relief because Pacific lamprey are abundant once more,” said Michael Carrier, the Service’s Pacific Region assistant regional director for Fishery Resources. “And perhaps, they will reflect on this assessment and the tremendous partnership of government and tribal scientists who contributed to it as the important first step in restoring this iconic fish.”
The Pacific lamprey is considered a priority species by the Service. Many tribes ranging from California to Alaska also regard the fish as culturally and ecologically important. Pacific lamprey migrate from freshwater to saltwater and back again and are a key food source for marine mammals and birds, potentially providing a buffer from these predators for salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Pacific lamprey abundance and distribution has declined significantly over the past three decades due to a variety of factors, including: barriers to migration from dams, diversions and other in-stream structures; altered water flows or dewatered stream reaches; dredging; degraded water quality and floodplains that lamprey use for habitat; poor ocean conditions and impacts from climate change.
The Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative emerged from tribal treaty summits in 2004 and 2008 in which Columbia River Basin treaty tribes – the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Nez Perce and Yakama Nation – urged the Service and other federal agencies to implement protective measures and initiate restoration actions. The assessment has incorporated elements of the draft Tribal Pacific Lamprey Restoration Plan for the Columbia River Basin and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 10-year Pacific Lamprey Passage Plan.
Both of these plans and the assessment will help guide the next two phases of the Service’s Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative. These include developing a range-wide Conservation Agreement among initiative stakeholders and then crafting Regional Implementation Plans in which research needs and conservation actions are prioritized.
“We’ve already been hard at work with our partners, including federal agencies, states, tribes, public utilities and non-profit organizations, by improving monitoring and evaluation techniques and implementing restoration activities to ensure that we make progress to restore Pacific lamprey while we plan,” said Howard Schaller, Western Lamprey Conservation Team lead and manager of the federal agency’s Columbia River Fisheries Program Office.
Lamprey restoration efforts have actually been underway since the 2004 summits and are expected to increase with the issuance of the Service’s Assessment. Earlier this year, the Service published the “Best Management Practices to Minimize Adverse Effects to Pacific Lamprey” to assist partners, organizations and individuals interested in protecting Lamprey habitat.
For more information about the Pacific lamprey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Lamprey Conservation Initiative, visit: