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With so much going on at the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project it can be hard to keep up. We want to make it easy for you, so visit this page often for regular updates about events, ongoing research and programs, and other topics of interest.

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Shining a spotlight on Pacific lamprey

Feb. 18, 2020

Most Oregonians are familiar with salmon and understand the importance of restoring their habitats, protecting their waters, and advancing reintroduction efforts like ours on the Deschutes. After all, Pacific Northwest salmon species are charismatic – brightly colored, fun to catch, tasty to eat, and culturally and economically significant to the region.

But there’s another fish species with similar traits whose recovery tends to receive less attention. These animals also migrate from freshwater to the ocean and back again, bringing marine nutrients with them upstream. Their numbers have also declined over the decades, due in part to habitat loss and passage barriers. And they’re also an important ceremonial food source for Native American tribes. That’s right: we’re talking about Pacific lamprey.

lamprey sucker mouth
Lampreys can be easily identified by their distinctive sucker mouths and eel-like bodies. (Despite similarities in appearance, lampreys are not related to eels, but rather jawless fishes.)

Like salmon, lamprey populations were once present throughout the Deschutes Basin but were extirpated from the upper tributaries when the Pelton Round Butte project was constructed. We don’t have much information about lamprey distribution in the Deschutes today, but do know that some of these fish still reside in the tributaries of the Lower Deschutes River.

To help restore lamprey habitat and facilitate their recovery, PGE and the Tribes recently launched a new $3 million fund, supporting both restoration and research. Applications will be reviewed bi-annually by an advisory committee made up of representatives from our collaborative partners on the fish committee.

Lamprey research
Pacific lamprey are an important but sensitive species in the Pacific northwest. Like salmon and steelhead, lampreys are anadromous — migrating to and from the ocean during their lifetime. We look forward to learning more about this fascinating and delicate species.

Prior to launching the new fund, we completed a 5-step evaluation process to determine the best course of action for aiding lampreys in the Deschutes. Implementing fish passage for adults and juveniles would require massive changes to existing infrastructure, and so lamprey passage at Pelton Round Butte was determined to be an impractical first step.

The decision was made to invest resources in mitigation instead, improving habitat (through the Mitigation and Enhancement Fund) and learning more about their distribution and behavior (through the Research Fund). Our first round of applications will be reviewed this June.

In addition to their cultural significance and role in transporting marine nutrients, lampreys are an alternative prey for aquatic and avian predators that might otherwise feast on salmonid smolts. The juveniles also help recycle nutrients by burrowing in sediment.

We hope our new fund will help these fish flourish in the Lower Deschutes and increase awareness amongst wildlife advocates, like all of you!

Learn more and apply for funding on our lamprey fund webpage.