Lamprey is a snake-like fish that is consumed by Indigenous people as a cultural and ceremonial food. On Wednesday, the Oregon Health Authority issued a health advisory to warn people about the presence of harmful pollutants that were identified in lamprey.
This recommendation establishes restrictions for the first time on the number of lampreys that individuals in Oregon’s tributaries and the Columbia River can consume without risking their health.
In lamprey tissue, levels of the dangerous industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs, were found to be concerning after being tested by the state. In addition to this, it found levels of the dangerous metal mercury that were at a level that caused worry for vulnerable persons such as youngsters, women who were pregnant, and nursing mothers.
Consuming an excessive amount of fish that is polluted with PCBs or mercury can, over time, cause harm to a person’s organs as well as learning and behavioural issues. Both of these poisons can be transmitted to children through the mother’s body either while she is pregnant or while she is nursing.
OHA is advising a meal limit of four lampreys per month for adults and two lampreys per month for vulnerable people. Vulnerable persons include children under the age of six, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, and nursing parents. This limit is in place to protect people’s health.
According to Aja DeCoteau, the executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, tribal members have taken the lead in the effort to restore lamprey in the Columbia River Basin. This is being done in order to protect the role that lamprey play in the ecosystem as well as to preserve tribal access to important cultural food.
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