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NW Power/Conservation Council Hears Update On Regional Efforts To Bring Back Pacific Lamprey
Posted on Friday, February 24, 2017 (PST)

With the population decline of Pacific lamprey along the Northwest coast and in the inland Columbia River basin, a conservation initiative was established for the fish to promote the implementation of conservation measures in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.


Three participants in a Pacific Lamprey Conservation Agreement gave the Northwest Power and Conservation Council an update on its progress at the Council’s meeting, Wednesday, February15, in Portland. So far, the collaborative effort to restore Pacific lamprey to coastal areas as well as the Columbia basin has identified some high priority actions, and it has had some successes.


Threats to Pacific Lamprey are restricted by mainstem and tributary passage at dams, reduced flows and dewatering of streams, stream and floodplain degradation, degraded water quality, and changing marine and climate conditions, according to Council information.


The Conservation Agreement is a regional strategy to improve the status of the fish throughout their range – coastal and inland – by helping implement research and conservation actions.


“The status of the lamprey risk assessment is that the coastal areas are more secure, but the inland areas are at a higher risk,” Mark Fritsch, Council Fish and Wildlife implementation manager told the full Council.


Although the conservation initiative began in 2007, the actual Conservation Agreement for Pacific Lamprey was signed by more than 30 parties in 2012:


(See CBB, July 20, 2012, “Feds, States, Tribes Sign Agreement Pledging Cooperation, Information Sharing On Protecting Lamprey”


It has three phases: the assessment and template phase for further conservation measures; the conservation agreement; and regional implementation plans.


“We’re trying to implement the actions needed” for Pacific lamprey recovery,” Fritsch said. “We now have a large group of partners working together. It’s not just a tribal or CRITFC plan any more.”


On the panel providing the overview of the lamprey initiative, was Howard Schaller, co-chair of the conservation team, and Christina Wang, chair of the lamprey technical workgroup. Both are with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also on the panel was Brian McIlraith who manages the Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission Pacific lamprey programs.


“The Agreement represents a cooperative effort among natural resource agencies and tribes to reduce threats to Pacific Lamprey and improve their habitats and population status,” the Initiative says. It will:

--develop regional implementation plans derived from existing information and plans,

--implement conservation actions,

--promote scientific research, and

--monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of those actions.


“This has been a rigorous process,” Wang said. “All partners are working to meet the conservation agreement objectives.”


Schaller said that there has been strong tribal representation in the effort to recover lamprey, but also a strong upper management representation by federal government entities. All Northwest tribes initially supported the efforts, but now every recognized tribe in the nation supports the efforts, he said. In the process, there already are 17 regional implementation plans in place.


“We’re trying also to get the local managers’ expertise to identify gaps in knowledge and high priority needs,” Schaller said. “We have an inventory of needs and are prioritizing efforts and projects – what’s feasible – and want as many shovel-ready projects in the cue as possible.”


Once all that is done, then they can look at funding streams, matching projects with funds, he added.


Most restoration plans for the lamprey are complete or in progress, Schaller said. Those not complete – a plan for the Snake River, California, coastal Oregon and Washington – should be ready by summer, he added.


Quite a few projects are already being paid for by the Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program as well as by the Columbia River Fish Accords, McIlraith said.


Among the successes is the natural reintroduction of lamprey upstream of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River and also on the Elwha River after the two dams were removed from that stream.


The Yakama Nation has become a leader in artificially propagating lamprey at its Prosser hatchery. The work is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of studies and site improvements at fish ladders and improving counting methods.


The U.S. Geological Survey is working on screening studies as is the Bureau of Reclamation. The USGS is also hosting a lamprey information site at


Upper Columbia River public utility districts are improving passage at their dams for lamprey.


There are three types of lamprey that call the Columbia River basin home. In addition to Pacific lamprey, they are brook lamprey, a non-anadromous variety, and river lamprey, which is anadromous but doesn’t travel far into the ocean.


Escapement goals are difficult to establish for lamprey, McIlraith said. They do not home like a salmon so they aren’t destined for a particular spot upstream. Plus, historic numbers are not precisely known.


What is known is that the number of lamprey counted at Bonneville Dam in 1970, the highest number recorded since1938, was about 375,000 while the count in 2015 was about 50,000. For McNary Dam, the count reached about 22,000 in the 1960s and was near zero in 2015.


The Council requested a basin-wide lamprey synthesis report in 2011, and completion is expected by March or April of this year.


That synthesis will summarize project results and develop conclusions on the data gathered for lamprey in the basin, according to McIlraith. In addition, it will identify the status and trends of lamprey population, limiting factors and critical uncertainties, as well as list priorities for future actions, or at least identify a path to prioritize actions.


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