Monday September 26, 2022

The Chronicle —

Dave’y Lumley is up to her armpits in water at Willamette Falls. Cascades spill over the basalt columns that loom above, splashing onto her head and off the brim of her baseball cap. She takes a breath and goes under, emerging seconds later with an eel-like creature twisting in her hand.

Lumley flings the fish into a net held by a fellow member of the Yakama Nation. “There’s still a lot of them down there,” she says, wiping her face.

The net writhes with dozens of silvery brown Pacific lampreys — a species few Northwesterners ever see, but which once flourished in coastal streams and migrated by the millions through the Columbia and Snake river systems. Pictures from the early 1900s show Willamette Falls draped with so many of the animals — attached to rocks by their sucker mouths — that the entire structure seems alive.

For millennia, tribes across Washington, Oregon and Idaho feasted on the odd-looking fish as they returned to fresh water every spring and summer to spawn. Among the oldest creatures on Earth, lampreys are integral to tribal culture as a “first food” and a vital part of nature’s web. But a single century of dam-building, development and habitat degradation decimated their numbers and blocked off much of their historic range.

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