Lampreys trucked upstream to repopulate Northwest waters

ERIC BARKER Lewiston Tribune

ASOTIN, Wash. — Chuck Axtell rang a bell and Shannon Wheeler rapped a drum as part of an extended blessing and welcoming ceremony for about a dozen Pacific lamprey just upstream from the mouth of Asotin Creek.

One by one, members of the Nez Perce Tribe and their guests delicately released the squirming fish into the cold rushing water. Moments earlier, Axtell sang the tribe’s “Circle of Life’’ song in the Nez Perce language.

“That song is blessing them, that they will complete the circle,” he said.

The fish, with some help from humans, are close to doing just that and helping ensure the species retains its fragile grip in the vast Snake River ecosystem.

The eel-like fish with a toothy disc mouth, known as heésu, were once common. Nez Perce people came to the creek to catch lamprey, which were an important source of food and medicine. The creek and the town of Asotin would eventually take their name from a mispronunciation of Hesuutin, a Nez Perce word that means “place of the eels.”

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