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For the Love of Lamprey

Pacific lamprey look like eels, if eels had a circular sucking disk full of spiky teeth for a mouth. I love them. These adorable river monsters are older than trees, have persisted through five mass extinctions (including that of the dinosaurs), and are now suffering widespread decline due to various human induced pressures. Pacific lamprey are cryptic and hard to study so there are a lot of unknowns about them and their whereabouts. What we do know is that they are ecologically significant in western rivers, they make up a large portion of the biomass in streams, they are integrated into marine ecosystems (they are anadromous like salmon), and they are culturally important to many tribes.

For the last 450 million years they have swam in our rivers, we cannot stand by and let them disappear on our watch. I started the Mad River Lamprey Project to figure out where Pacific lamprey spawn and rear in the Mad River, a river that drains 497 square miles and supports Pacific lamprey populations (through anecdotal sightings). The Mad River is thought of as a resource river, not a prized refuge for sensitive species. In much the same way as lamprey could disappear before our eyes, the Mad could become degraded beyond repair. 


The Mad River is very rugged and hard to access so little is known about where lamprey go in the river. To preserve the small lamprey runs that persist, we need to know where and when they are in the river. So, the Mad River Lamprey Project was born. Through a combination of eDNA and spawner/snorkel surveys we’re going to figure out which tributaries are important to these fish. We are collecting data now, and will continue through 2022. I hope that another outcome of the project is an excitement and awareness of lamprey, who are not as charismatic and iconic as salmon, but just as important and in need of love. 

This is a project that I am running through the Bureau of Land Management, in partnership with the Blue Lake Rancheria, with the help of lots of wonderful volunteers.

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