Yurok and Karuk Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Insights into Pacific Lamprey Populations of the Lower Klamath Basin
Robin S. Petersen Lewis
Abstract.—Until recently, Pacific lamprey Lampetra tridentata was generally considered insignificant and overlooked in West Coast fisheries management. Substantial population declines in the past two decades have triggered increased interest, yet current studies lack historical context. The Yurok and Karuk tribes of the Klamath River in northern California have long had a relationship with Pacific lamprey, utilizing its subsistence and cultural value for thousands of years. In this research, ethnographic methods were used to gather traditional ecological knowledge of Pacific lamprey from Yurok and Karuk tribal community members. This system of knowledge can provide key insights regarding the life history, decline, and ecological significance of local lamprey populations. According to tribal lamprey fishers (eelers), lamprey populations began declining in the Klamath basin more than 40 years ago, with average harvests dropping from 1,000 to less than 15. Harvest methods utilized by eelers provide insights into stream morphology and flows, as well as lamprey distribution and relative abundance. Eelers observed corresponding shifts in lamprey behavior, with electromagnetic changes in the atmosphere. Tribal community members emphasize the significant role lampreys play in the river system, both as prey and essential contributors of marine-derived nutrients.