CHEMULT, Ore – New evidence of Miller Lake lamprey shows these tiny fish are now back in Miller Lake for the first time since the 1950s.
Lamprey wounds on six brown trout caught at Miller Lake this past summer by Jordan Ortega, an Oregon State University graduate student. Ortega is part of a team working to get lamprey back into Miller Lake.
Juvenile Miller Lake lamprey are parasitic feeders of trout and speckled dace. In the lake, it’s likely fish are not killed by lamprey feeding on them. However, biologists think trout prey on the lamprey.
ODFW’s lamprey biologist Ben Clemens says the brown trout wounds show recovery efforts are working. Most of the wounds were fresh, indicating some Miller Lake lamprey now live in the lake.
“This is exciting news for a team that’s been working nearly two decades to restore these lamprey back into Miller Lake,” Clemens said.
The team partners have been capturing Miller Lake lamprey downstream of the lake. Captured lamprey are moved to streams above the lake. The goal has been to have those lamprey eventually return to Miller Lake.
“It’s rewarding to see this work pay off and know some lamprey are now indeed living again in Miller Lake,” Clemens said.
The smallest landlocked parasitic lamprey in the world, Miller Lake lamprey were nearly wiped out from the lake in the 1950s. At the time, fish biologists thought the lamprey harmed other game fish.
In the 1990s, a small population was found in the Klamath Basin, kicking off conservation efforts.
In 2005, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved ODFW’s Miller Lake Lamprey Conservation Plan. The plan outlines ways to protect and restore lamprey to the lake and Klamath Basin tributaries.
Removing a dam blocking upstream migration in 2005 was a major action to help Miller Lake lamprey.
Since dam removal, the trapping and relocating project happens nearly every summer. ODFW, Western Fishes, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Oregon State University work together on this project.
Older than dinosaurs, all of Oregon’s 10 species of lamprey remain primitive. Miller Lake lamprey are state listed as a Sensitive Species and are an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species.