Monday, July 30, 2012

A Tradition to Preserve

A view of Willamette Falls
: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
Last week, a group of tribal youth from the Warm Springs and Yakama tribes braved the slippery rocks and flowing waters of Willamette Falls. Each year, tribal members come to Willamette Falls to harvest Pacific lamprey. This species of fish has always been an important aspect of tribal culture and religion but as Pacific lamprey numbers continue to decline, tribes depend on the annual harvest at Willamette Falls to last the year.

Tribal youth navigating the rocks where Pacific
lamprey reside at the Falls.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
This year at the falls, a group of students were selected based upon high GPA’s in school to work with The Warm Springs Tribe for the summer. As part of this job, the six members came out to the falls in basketball shorts, t-shirts and sneakers to dredge through the waters, capturing lamprey. “This is my first time eeling,” said one of the younger members of the group as he excitedly dragged a burlap sack full of lamprey up the steep rocks. Their group leader explained the significance of their work describing how they would later be able to present their catches to tribal elders. “Talk about knowing where your food came from” she said.

Tribal stories were told throughout the day, and one explained how throwing the first lamprey you catch back into the river would assure a successful harvest. One of the young eelers wanted to know if it still counted that his first catch wiggled right out of his hands. As we watched from the safer area of the falls, the faces of the eelers were proud as they posed for camera flashes all around, one eeler showing off one of his catches by holding it up into the air.

Celebrating their catches
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
It was an incredible site to see Pacific lamprey in the flesh as they scaled the falls’ cliffs using only their suction cup mouth, but more importantly to witness these young, energetic tribal members taking part in such an important piece of culture and history for their tribes. The purpose of their involvement was to ensure that these traditions will continue to pass on through future generations; to pass on both the cultural significance of lamprey among tribes and the overall preservation of rivers. With how much these kids seemed to enjoy having a part in such an important day, I believe the tradition will be well preserved.

Pacific lamprey from the days' work.
Credit: Meghan Kearney/USFWS
The next step is to help preserve the Pacific lamprey. Though not just anybody can climb down to the falls to aid the tribes in their harvest, anyone can play a part in working towards restoration of the once high numbers of Pacific lamprey in our region! And better yet – it is a great excuse to get yourself connected with nature! I will include links below where you can learn more about this interesting and misunderstood fish and information on ways to get involved in their conservation!

For more footage from the harvest please watch this Oregonian Video and follow Luna the Lamprey on Facebook and Twitter!

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