Efforts Underway To Help Unusual Fish Spread Back Into Native Habitat On Central, South Coasts

Feb 5, 2019

They are primitive, almost scary-looking fish once commonly found off the Central and South Coasts. Imagine an eel-like creature with a mouth thar looks like a suction cup with teeth.

The fish are Pacific Lampreys, and they are almost gone in our region.

Dr. Stewart Reid is an independent biologist with Western Fishes. He’s been studying the mysterious fish along with Dr. Damon Goodman, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

They live in the ocean, but migrate up freshwater creeks to breed.  Young lampreys live in the creeks for years before migrating back to the oceans, although researchers admit parts of their life cycles are still mysteries.

The Pacific Lampreys were once common along the West Coast down into Mexico, but in recent years San Luis Obispo Creek in San Luis Obispo is as far south as the researchers could find a colony. In 2011, the researchers noticed the lampreys had disappeared from the creek.

The researchers started thinking about what had changed, and noticed there was a new ladder for migrating salmon. Because of its design, the lampreys couldn’t work their way over it. So, for a few hundred dollars, they created a different type of ladder which would allow the lampreys to use their suction mouths to climb over the barrier. It worked, and the lampreys are now back in force in the creek.

Working with the United Water Conservation District in Ventura County, a similar lamprey ladder has been placed on the Santa Clara River.

The Pacific Lampreys aren’t on the endangered species list, but their numbers have been dropping. Reid and Goodman says they are hoping to set the stage for the lampreys to repopulate the Central and South Coasts naturally.

Reid says a few of the Pacific Lampreys have been spotted in rivers south of Point Conception, including the Ventura River, and Santa Ana River.

They are hoping for the public’s help in documenting sightings. You can report sightings via the email address here.