Leaders from Bonneville Power Administration, other federal and state agencies, and Northwest tribes have signed an agreement supporting increased cooperation and information sharing to better protect Pacific lLamprey, a troubled Northwest native species.
The lamprey is an anadromous fish. Its young rear in the soft bottoms of freshwater rivers and streams for three to seven years before migrating to the sea to feed parasitically on a variety of other fish for another one to three years before returning to freshwater to spawn and die.
There are lamprey fossils from 450 million years ago, making it the oldest fish found in the Columbia River system.
Signing of the conservation agreement came during the third Lamprey Summit, sponsored in Portland by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The species is considered an important part of the Columbia River ecosystem and a significant cultural resource for Columbia Basin tribes. The summit underscored both the cultural significance of lamprey to Native Americans and their biological significance in West Coast river basins.
Although the lamprey is not listed under the Endangered Species Act, studies have shown significant recent population declines throughout their range. Once retuning to the Columbia River and its tributaries by the millions, approximately 48,000 returned to Bonneville Dam in 2011. Lamprey returns were at an all-time low of 23,000 in 2010. The decline of lamprey in the Columbia River basin has left Willamette Falls as the only lamprey harvest location currently available to tribes.
The agreement, endorsed by a group of over 30 federal agencies, tribes, states and other parties, defines a cooperative effort between signatories. They will work together to reduce threats to lampreys and improve their habitat and population numbers and distribution.
Their goal is to achieve increased long-term population growth of lamprey that will support traditional tribal cultural use of the species throughout its historic range in the United States.
BPA has funded projects to benefit lamprey since 1994, when the agency initiated funding of a species status review for Pacific lamprey under the Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program. In 1995, BPA assisted with the formation of the Lamprey Technical Work Group and has been a member since the work group was formed.
More recently, under the 2008 Columbia Basin Fish Accords, BPA funds research and lamprey reintroduction projects, while the Corps of Engineers is funding dam passage improvements for the species.
Additionally, since 2010, BPA's contracts for fish and wildlife mitigation projects that may affect lamprey habitat now include language directing project sponsors to consider lamprey best management practices - developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - in their work planning and execution. An example of one of these best practices relates to in-stream project work. If a section of streambed must be dewatered to facilitate as part of a project, doing so slowly can give juvenile lampreys that may be in the area time to sense the change and move to a better location rather than being stranded by rapid dewatering.
While the lamprey conservation agreement doesn't commit additional BPA funds to lamprey, it will help maximize the benefits of existing lamprey funding through cooperation and information sharing.
Lorri Bodi, BPA's Vice President of Environment, Fish and Wildlife, says of the agreement, "BPA is pleased to be part of this collaborative effort to restore lamprey in the Columbia Basin. Not only are we funding our tribal partners to research and reintroduce lamprey in rivers of concern, but we are also using lamprey 'best management practices' as we implement our own projects."