Nez Perce Tribal Lamprey restoration could be key to future salmon population

LAPWAI, ID - Did you know the city of Asotin is actually a translation of the Nez Perce word Hesutin?

The word means 'place of the eels' where many Lamprey were once plentiful along Asotin Creek. Tribal leaders are working to restore the once abundant fish back into our waters. Take a look.

Inside these hot tub sized creatures that could be the key to salmon restoration.

"Historically there were millions of Lamprey coming into the Columbia and migrating up into the Snake Basin," said Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery Complex Manager, Aaron Penney. "And now we may see as little as twenty per year making it over."

"To increase survival and to assure that more of these fish get into those target streams...that's why we hold them," said Resident Fisheries Director, David Statler.

Biologist said the alarming decrease in Lamprey is due to hydroelectric dams.

"There's been five-million-dollars appropriated from the Columbia River Basin from BPA to help with restoring this fish," said Tribal Executive Committee member, Daniel Kane. "But we've got a long ways to go."

In 2005, leaders from the tribe decided it was time to take action. The river eel are three to five times richer in caloric value than salmon,and are a buttery snack for salmon and larger predators. And culturally, the Lamprey play a significant role in the Nez Perce Tribal history.

"Elders would sometime request this as a last meal as they know they are getting close to the end because it's so distinctive," said Fish Program Resident, Tod Sween.

The eels spend nearly four to six years in the sands of local rivers before they head out to sea and then eventually back to the river to spawn and die.

"It would latch on to a marine creature or whale and then it would drink the juices, the nutrients," said Sween. "But it would leave a little scar."

"It would take several generations before we start seeing numbers really increase," said Penney. "But if we don't do anything now they're just going to keep going downhill."

The hatchery recently received funding to build five more tanks which could hold up to 1,600 Lamprey. They expect to start construction in one month.

On Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. you're invited to attend a screening of a half-hour film on Lamprey titled, "The Lost Fish" - The video explains the importance of Lamprey and their future in the Columbia River Basin. Doors open at 5:00 p.m. and the screening starts at 6:00 in the LCSC Williams Conference Center.