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Miller Lake lamprey wound< a fresh Miller Lake lamprey wound is found on a brown trout caught by Jordan Ortega. Photo by Jordan Ortega

Lamprey found in Miller Lake — the first findings since the 1950s


Lamprey, an ancient lineage of jawless fish, have been found in northern Klamath County’s Miller Lake for the first time since the 1950s.

Studies by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said wounds caused by lampreys were found on six brown trout caught by Jordan Ortega at Miller Lake this past summer. Ortega, an Oregon State University graduate student, is part of a team working to return lamprey back to Miller Lake.

The Miller Lake lamprey, which weigh about a pound and are up to 6 inches long, are regarded as the smallest landlocked parasitic lamprey in the world. Along with Miller Lake, they have been found in the lake’s sub-drainage and the upper Williamson and Sycan rivers.

According to the ODFW, juvenile Miller Lake lamprey are parasitic feeders of trout and speckled dace.

“In the lake,” the report says, “it’s likely fish are not killed by lamprey feeding on them. However, biologists think trout prey on the lamprey.”

Ben Clemens, ODFW’s lamprey biologist, said most of the wounds on the brown trout were fresh, which indicates recovery efforts are working and indicate some Miller Lake lamprey again 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.

Research 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 the captured lamprey 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 eliminated 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, which outlines ways to protect and restore lamprey to the lake and Klamath Basin tributaries. Later that year, an upstream dam that was blocking migration was removed, which the agency said helped Miller Lake lamprey. Since the dam’s removal, the trapping and relocating project has happened nearly every summer. Along with ODFW, other agencies and groups involved in the project have included Western Fishes, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon State University.

Older than dinosaurs, all of Oregon’s 10 species of lamprey remain primitive. Miller Lake lamprey are listed as an Sensitive Species and are also an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species.



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