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First Adult Offspring of Translocated Lamprey Returns to Columbia

Elmer Crow, Nez Perce Fisheries (right) and Jeff Yanke, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (left), releasing translocated lamprey into the Wallowa River in northeastern Oregon in 2012.

In 2007, the Nez Perce Tribe Fisheries Program’s Pacific lamprey restoration team, led by the late Elmer Crow, released a group of lamprey into Newsome Creek, a small tributary of the South Fork Clearwater River in Idaho. They had been collected from the lower Columbia River and transported 400 miles upriver to spare them from the risky journey passing the remaining dams and increase their likelihood of reproducing.

While recently analyzing Pacific lamprey genetic samples from the 2020 adult return, CRITFC’s Hagerman Fish Genetics Laboratory discovered that one was the offspring of two of the fish translocated in 2007. This is the first adult offspring produced by translocated parents to be identified since CRITFC and the member tribes began genetic monitoring of the Pacific lamprey translocation programs.

The landmark fish was captured at a lower Columbia River dam by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation lamprey program for their translocation project. It was transported to eastern Oregon and released into the Grande Ronde River on September 21, 2020.

“This fish was born thanks to the forward-looking efforts of Elmer Crow and his team 14 years ago,” said CRITFC Chair Quincy Ellenwood (Nez Perce). “That it ended up being helped upriver to produce offspring in the Snake River basin marks a fitting circle to the tribes’ efforts to protect and restore lamprey.”

Although this adult is the first to be identified, there are likely other adult translocation offspring that have returned and even larger numbers that are projected to return in future years.

Reconstructed pedigree of the successfully spawning Pacific lamprey that were released in Newsome Creek in 2007. Of the 50 lamprey that were released in Newsome Creek in 2007, 29 were confirmed to have successfully spawned. The parents of the recent adult return were numbers 14 and 07. The chart was created from a decade of genetic data collected from larvae and juvenile offspring caught in Newsome Creek and downstream areas of the Snake River basin.

“One adult Pacific lamprey returning up the Columbia River may not seem like much, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for these restoration actions,” said CRITFC Commissioner James Marsh (Umatilla).

The rotary screw trap at the mouth of Newsom Creek where Pacific lamprey larvae and juveniles are sampled for genetic analysis. In 2013, another offspring of adults #14 and #07 was caught in this trap as a 6-year-old larva. Since then, no other offspring from this pair had been detected at any location downstream until the recent adult was found.

“Up until now, our knowledge of the translocation program’s progress has consisted of information gathered from genetic analysis of larvae and juveniles growing in rivers, streams, and the Pacific Ocean,” said CRITFC Senior Fishery Geneticist Dr. Jon Hess. “We have found thousands of offspring from adults that were translocated by the Nez Perce Tribe, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Yakama Nation.”

Genetic monitoring of these translocation efforts has helped to fill in gaps in the biology of Pacific lamprey that have been difficult to study in the past. We still do not know what the average lifespan of Pacific lamprey may be, but because of this new discovery, we now know they can be 13 years old before beginning their migration to freshwater as adults.

The tribes’ translocation efforts began in 2000 and are continuing today. The primary objective has been to increase larval abundance in waterways that historically supported lamprey populations as an interim measure while passage and habitat improvements are being made. The ultimate objective is that these translocations will lead to Columbia Basin Pacific lamprey populations that are healthy enough to support a sustainable tribal harvest as they had since time immemorial.