December 29, 2012

Allen Afield: Lampreys aren't monsters from the deep


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Circa the late 1970s, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, started blocking upstream lamprey migration on the Sheepscot to curtail predation, and a strange thing happened -- strictly my anecdotal evidence.

Each fall for most of my life, I bird-hunted the Sheepscot from Sheepscot Pond in Palermo to the Route 105 bridge in Somerville. When lampreys ran the river in my youth, salmonid spawning was quite heavy there. It was nothing to see trout and salmon on gravel nests in bird-hunting season. When lampreys no longer ran that section and cleaned gravel, spawning sightings declined significantly. I have always wondered if there was a correlation and think the topic needs scientific research.

Lampreys have a round mouth, rasping tongue and teeth that help them attach to the side of fish to extract bodily fluids, and they do feed heavily in this manner at sea. In the old days, though, circular scars from lampreys on Sheepscot salmonids were common and proved juvenile lampreys were feeding on landlocked trout and salmon. It also underscored that many salmonids survived the intrusion. Blocking the spawning run made these marks quite uncommon, though.

Yes, fisheries-management issues can keep biologists awake at night. If my opinion interests anyone, particularly biologists, I say let the lampreys run the river. They've done it for millennia, a natural part of this river.

Here's another little Sheepscot tidbit, too. In my youth, I lived for the March brown (Stenonema vicarium) hatches on this river, a large mayfly that drives big trout wild. S. vicarium needs clean gravel to flourish, but I haven't seen this bug on the river since the very early 1980s.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:


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