OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) — As long as American Indians have lived in the Pacific Northwest, they have looked to a jawless, eel-like fish for food.
Tribes once harvested the lamprey from rivers throughout the Columbia Basin, which stretches from the Oregon coast into Canada. But with dozens of hydroelectric dams in the way, the fish has followed the path of the buffalo — from a food staple of a people to a curiosity.
Today, the tribes of the Northwest have just one place to go for lamprey: a 40-foot waterfall on the Willamette River, about a dozen miles upstream from a Superfund site.
Unlike salmon, which have drawn billions of dollars in government funds to modify dams and restore habitat, the lamprey have gone largely ignored. It’s the tribes that still eat them that are driving the effort to bring them back.