Courthouse News Service –
Photos from the early 1900s show lamprey – an ancient, eel-like fish, covering the rocks at Willamette Falls like a wriggling shag carpet. But like salmon, lamprey numbers dropped dramatically with the erection of dozens of dams in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a problem that Native American tribes have been working to correct for decades. And on Friday, Oregon followed suit, approving its first state-wide restoration plan.
Lamprey are older than the dinosaurs. After surviving four mass extinctions, they began to decline at alarming rates in the 1960s. Having co-evolved with so many other species over their 450 million years on earth, they occupy a critical spot in the food chain.
Like salmon, lamprey migrate from the streams and rivers of their birth out to the ocean, and return to freshwater to spawn. When they die, their decomposing bodies replenish headwaters and the forests that surround them with nutrients from the ocean.
Their floating eggs feed young salmon each spring just as they are preparing to swim to the ocean. A fatty meal for 41 different species of predators, lamprey also relieve the increasing pressure on salmon as a food source for sea lions, sturgeon and fish-eating birds.