Pacific lamprey are the oldest known fish in the Columbia River System. Fossils indicate they were here 450 million years ago.
But in mid-20th centrury tribal fishers started noticing their numbers dwindling. Rivers once clogged with lamprey reached a historic low in 2010, said Brian McIlraith, lamprey project leader at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
The toothy, eel-like fish are an important part of tribal diets and a good indicator of ecosystem health. But salmon and steelhead recoveries have overshadowed the decline of the lamprey, which some non-tribal fishers considered a "trash fish."
To help raise awareness about the lamprey CRITFC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Freshwaters Illustrated have released a documentary about efforts to recover the Pacific lamprey -- before the fish are put on the endangered species list.
The documentary travels to all the Columbia River tribes to highlight different lamprey projects, from harvesting lamprey at Willamette Falls -- which I can tell you is a wet, slippery, exciting job -- to trucking the fish around dams.
Right now, CRITFC is holding screenings for the tribes. The East Oregonian reports about 35 people came to a showing in Pendleton, Ore. Organizers hope to screen the documentary around the Pacific Northwest in the future.
-- Courtney Flatt