Idaho Law Review


Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) is an anadromous species in an ancient lineage of jawless fishes. The species is native to the North Pacific and its marine-accessible freshwater rivers and streams. Pacific lamprey are understudied relative to other anadromous fishes and has severely declined in abundance throughout the Columbia River Basin. Indigenous people of the Snake and Columbia River Basins have long recognized the ecological role and value of lamprey through their spiritual and cultural practices connected to Pacific lamprey. The combined effects of poor passage at dams, historic and continued habitat degradation, and altered marine host conditions have contributed to the observed decline in abundance and distribution. The unique characteristics and management history have placed Pacific lamprey in a legal and cultural grey area and provide a useful foil to Pacific salmon in considering protections for migratory fish. Here we provide a review of legal protections and recovery actions throughout the Columbia River Basin, including an analysis of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2004 denial of a petition to list Pacific lamprey under the Endangered Species Act. The current patchwork of measures fails to provide integrated protections across the life history of the species. This stems from a complex lifecycle spanning dozens of local, state, tribal, federal, and international jurisdictions as well as a cultural legacy of lamprey being considered "trash fish" by western society and early fishery managers. However, recent shifts in perceptions about the ecological value of the species and increased co-management of anadromous species within the Columbia River Basin have elevated the species as a management priority. Continued efforts to conserve and recover Pacific lamprey pose a complex and honorable challenge for fisheries managers within the Columbia River Basin.

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