Tribal members make trip to Willamette Falls for annual lamprey - KPTV - FOX 12

Tribal members make trip to Willamette Falls for annual lamprey harvest

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The month of July brings with it an important traditional fishing trip for the Portland area's tribal members, who make their way to Willamette Falls in Oregon City to harvest lamprey.

The annual lamprey harvest involves tribal members plunging their arms into the rushing waters of the falls, and pulling out the squirming, eel-like fish, which are a traditional food staple, traditionally served alongside salmon at feasts and ceremonial dinners.

"It actually has its own unique flavor," said Bobby Begay, a member of the Yakama tribe. "It's a pretty oily fish.  We like to cook our lamprey over the fire over the barbecue."

Members of the Warm Springs, Umatilla, Yakama, and Nez Perce tribes traditionally gather lamprey to share with families who have ceremonial dinners or memorials coming up.

Lamprey populations have been in steep decline for more than 50 years, but the tribes' treaty rights allow members to continue to harvest the fish at historic fishing sites.

"Our relationship with these animals are ones that go back to creation. They offered themselves to provide for us as tribal members," said Sarah Thompson, who represents the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

Knowledge of where the fish live and how to collect them is passed down from generation to generation.

During July's harvest at Willamette Falls, tribal members gathered between 300 and 400 lamprey.

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