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Tribes propose plan to preserve Pacific lamprey

Several hundred caught each year at Willamette Falls

Northwest tribes are trying to preserve the longest-surviving fish in the Columbia River basin, the Pacific lamprey.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission's four member tribes - the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama and Nez Perce - adopted a comprehensive restoration plan for Pacific lamprey on Dec. 19.

The tribes catch less than 1,000 lamprey each year, all during a few days in July at Willamette Falls, says Sara Thompson, fish commission spokeswoman.

'It's just for subsistence and ceremonial use,' Thompson says.

Though lamprey are not listed as an endangered species, only 23,000 returned to the Bonneville Dam in 2010, the lowest on record, she says.

Lamprey have been caught with high levels of PCBs and other pollutants.

The tribal restoration plan aims to restore their habitat, improve fish passage over hydroelectric dams, and reduce toxics.

The tribal commission plan doesn't carry the weight of law or regulation. However, the tribes will collaborate with government regulators to improve the lamprey's prospects, and many of the tribal restoration plan proposals also are contained in agency plans, says Brian McMilraith, the tribal commission's Pacific lamprey project leader.

Fossil records indicate there were Pacific lamprey here as long as 450 million years ago.