- Pacific lamprey (Lampetra tridentata) have historically been considered by the Western scientific community as a "trash" fish and generally overlooked in West Coast fisheries management. Recent population declines in Pacific Northwest streams have triggered new research to understand the life history and ecological significance of this species. These new studies are significant, yet incomplete as they lack the historical context in which to place the data. The Yurok and Karuk Tribes along the Klamath River in Northern California have long had a relationship with Pacific lamprey, utilizing it for both its subsistence and cultural value. Native knowledge of this species is integrated in a complex understanding of natural systems. However, only in the last few decades have the natural resource management skills of indigenous people been recognized by the dominant culture. Hundreds of years of suppression and exploitation limited the abilities of tribes to utilize their traditional management practices. During 2004 and 2005, I lived in the local communities of the Yurok and Karuk tribes while working with their tribal fisheries programs. Utilizing ethnographic methods of participant observation, focus groups, informal interviews, and semi-directed interviews, I gathered traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of Pacific lamprey from more than 80 Yurok and Karuk tribal community members in the Lower Klamath River Basin.
While I discourage single species approaches to resource management, in my research I utilized this method to explore and learn from the holistic foundation of Karuk and Yurok TEK. Pacific lamprey became the lens through which I could view and understand lamprey more completely, as well as the ecological and cultural interconnections of the Klamath River system as a whole. In this thesis, I have included much of the TEK shared with me by local eelers and tribal community members about the life history, biology, and ecological significance of Pacific lamprey. I also summarize some of the key points made by participants regarding the cultural significance of Pacific lamprey, including the social, spiritual, and health implications of a declining lamprey population. Additionally, I include knowledge shared with me regarding traditional fisheries management and the role of ceremonies in resource management. Historically, millions of lamprey were seen throughout the Lower Klamath River Basin. Harvests began in late November at the mouth of the river and continued into August as the fish made their way up into the Scott Valley. Tribal community members emphasized the significant role lamprey have in the balance
and health of the Klamath River system, both as prey and essential contributors of marine-derived nutrients. According to Karuk and Yurok tribal eelers, lamprey populations began declining in the Klamath River Basin more than forty years ago. It was not uncommon for the eelers of the village to harvest over 1000 lamprey at a time, enough to take care of the entire community. Today, they are lucky to harvest 15 lamprey. Population decline factors have been attributed to the combined influences of logging practices, wetland delineation, Iron Gate Dam, fire suppression, contamination, and predation. I utilize the main TEK contributions from this research to discuss aligning TEK and Western scientific knowledge. I also include recommendations for both Karuk and Yurok tribal fisheries programs and Western fisheries managers in the Klamath Basin on working with TEK and supporting local tribal fisheries management.
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