The annual lamprey harvest is a tradition for Native Americans in the cold waters of the northwest.
A 40-foot waterfall some 15 miles south of Portland, Oregon is just the beginning of the lamprey harvest for adults and children from the Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama reservations.
Tribal members have gathered here for generations to collect a fish considered a delicacy by tribal elders. Willamette Falls is one of the few places left in Oregon where lampreys can be gathered by the hundreds. Prized for their rich, fatty flesh the cold-water lampreys are best roasted over an open fire, but can dried or frozen as well.
In the not-so-distant past, numbers of lampreys up and down the Columbia River basin were estimated in the millions. Now as few as 20,000 remain according to Inter-Tribal Relations Fish Commission member Brian McIlraith.
Native American tribes here are not only continuing their annual lamprey harvest, but are advocating for, and instrumental in, lamprey restoration for the future of the species. Included in their methods are trucking the fish past dams, construction of fish ramps, and hatchery breeding.
According to tribal elder Donnie Winishut Sr., “We would rather see them grow in a natural way. It’s good to see the young people coming to the falls and learning our tradition, and I hope they can continue coming here to catch the fish.”
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