Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Lamprey Eel & the South Fork of the Eel River.

Photos from Wikipedia

Just like every thing that I post here, I’m just as interested in the story that goes along with the plants and critters that I write about as the plants and critters themselves.

I was born and raised in the South Fork of the Eel Canyon, I have often mused that if the “scientists” want to know anything about this river or canyon, they should just ask me. Well, the other day one of those scientific types emailed me explaining that he was working with the local Indian tribe researching the Lamprey Eels on the north coast of California. I thought “Wow, finally”! All of my “knowledge” of the South Fork is going to come into play.

He said that he was interested in anything that I knew about the South Fork related to the eels. He said that folkloric evidence was okay, and layman terms was okay. He said that at the conclusion of the study that he would send all of the participants a copy of the final report. He went on to ask me what I knew about the “Ammocoetes” and the “macropthalmia”. Ummmm… I knew that an “ammocoetes was a hatchling eel, but I didn’t know what a “Macropthalmia” was. He asked about the baby eels before, and after, they grew their eyes. Whaaaa…. They get eyes later??? He asked about the “redds”. I knew that those were the spawning nests and as a little kid I watched the eels spawn and move big rocks with their mouths. I knew that the baby eels lived in the muck in the river bottom. I thought that they would go to the ocean in the fall of the year, just like the salmon and the steelheads do. I soon had to admit to myself that I was “not knowledgeable at all”.

I wrote him a nice email describing the changes that I’ve seen in the river through the years. About how we have lost all of the nice deep holes that were filled with real nice eel muck, and I thought that had a lot to do with the decline. That and that fact that we no longer had and deep, cold water pools, that we had before the two floods probably had a lot to do with the disappearance of the eels. I told him that any place that had a sandy / silty / mucky bottom had eels in the muck. I related that as kids we would scoop them up out of the muck with coffee cans, throw them on the river bank and put them in gallon jars full of water, so we could watch them. I told him about all of the dead eels tangled in the willow brush along the stream banks, and how we had to choose where we went swimming to avoid the dead eels that seemed to be everywhere. I offered my services to connect him with other people that had lived here before the eel pretty much disappeared. I offered to help on any surveys that I could help with.

Apparently my vast reservoir of knowledge and history about the river didn’t impress him that much. I didn’t hear back from him, and my hopes to be part of saving the Eel from oblivion slowly faded away. I was too embarrassed to try and re-contact him. So much with my expertise on the South Fork of the Eel River. I feel like a failure.

However, recently Ross Sherburn asked me to do a post on the Eels, so I decided that I would try to find out a little bit about them. As I researched them, I discovered that studying the Eel takes a more scientific approach than catching them in a coffee can and watching them try to bury themselves in the silt in the bottom of a glass jar. The Eel is a very intricate creature. First, as I’m sure you already guessed: “They are not really eels, you know. They are Lampreys”. That’s always a given, no matter what I call things, it’s always wrong. Lampreys are really a fresh water spawning fish, but they lack the jaws and fins of a true fish, so no matter what I would call them it would be wrong. About the only thing that you could call them that wouldn’t start and argument is “Pacific Lamprey”.

In the ocean, they survive by sucking onto a salmon, flat fish, pollock, or other kinds of fish. They have a round suction cup mouth with several rows of very sharp teeth around it. After they suck onto a fish they use their teeth to make the fish bleed and they suck the host fishes blood to live on.

After spending one to three years in the ocean, when they are 15-25 inches in length, they travel up a fresh water stream to spawn. They spawn from March to June, so if you want to see one, that is the time to observe them. It is unknown if they home in on the area that they were spawned, like salmon do. They seem to choose areas were there are lots of baby eels living in the muck. They spawn in the gravel at the upstream end of a riffle, similar to salmon. They move rocks to get down to the perfect size gravel for their eggs. The male sucks onto the female and wraps his body around the female, she is excited into laying her eggs and he is excited into spraying his sperm on the eggs. The eggs are fertile and settle into the loose bottom. They hatch after 19 days at 59 degree water temperature. They float downstream and bury themselves in the bottom muck, were they live for three to seven years! They live as filter feeders on diatoms and algae. After spawning the adults die. The river used to be quite smelly in the summer from all the dead eels.

They really don’t know much about their hatchling stage, (ammocoetes) were they live in the silt and muck. They think that they might actually move around in the muck. But, they know that they do move downstream and rebury themselves during periods of high water.

During their hatchling sub-muck stage they have no eyes. It’s only later that they grow eyes and teeth and swim out of the muck and move to the ocean. They actually Metamorphosis to macropthalmia, the juvenile stage, like a tadpole changes to a frog. Then they free swim to the ocean.

The habitat of the Pacific Lamprey is the northern Pacific rim, and the and the fresh streams found there.

How much of this did you know?

More reading:
http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/Species/Data/PacificLamprey/Documents/012808PL-FactSheet.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamprey


The Lamprey Eel should not be confused with the Sacramento Sucker fish, that we have here, that was also once common.
Sacramento Sucker fish by Photo and text by Pat Higgens


The Sacramento sucker is the species found from Redwood Creek south, while the Klamath small scale sucker (Catostomas rimiculus) occurs in drainages from the Klamath River north. Suckers prefer the lazy current of mainstem coastal rivers to steep, tumbling headwater streams. The profound changes of north coast rivers in response to sedimentation from the 1955 and 1964 flood lead to a large increase in sucker populations companion with the decline of salmonids (German, 1968). In cases where there are chronic high levels of turbidity and bedload movement, suckers may decline or disappear, such as in the Gualala River (Higgins, 1997).


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68 comments:

Ross Sherburn said...

Ernie,Thanks for the Post!! I've seen a few Eels in the river, back"in the day" I never saw any in the "Swimmin" hole under the north side of the"bridge", Just a few Crawdads!!!

olmanriver said...

Thanks, Perfessor Ernie! Learned a bunch.

I believe the story goes that Sally Bell was riding home in a wagon from a cataract surgery with Tom Bell driving, when a branch hit her in the eye and from then on she was blind.(do correct me if there is another version)
People would bring her Eels from Redwood Creek and she could detect a difference between "night eels" and "day eels".
Any idea what that would be about?

I just read in a great book about the Huchnom that they used Eel fat in ceremony to make their hair shine.

In the wonderful Two Peoples, One Place, Ray Raphael gives us this excerpt:
"The third day after leaving the bay we reached another river, which arrested our advance in that direction. Upon approaching this river, we came suddenly upon two very old Indians, who at seeing us fell to the ground as if they had been shot. We dismounted and made them get up, giving them to undertand that we were their friends; but it was with much difficulty that we succeeded in quieting their fears. They were loaded with eels, which they informed us they obtained from this river. Our appetites being in just such a condition that anything not absolutely poisonous, upon which a meal could be made, was palatable, without asking any question, we helped ourselves to nearly their whole load." pg 73

Somedays you eats the bears and... said...

oops, that was the L.K. Wood diary from 1849-50, before the bears fed on him at Bear Butte.

Anonymous said...

Herb Mason had some fresh smoked eel last summer. I don't remember if he said what river it came from but he had a big sack of them. My brother ate some but I declined. I remember Ted or Elsie Jewett cooking eel at their house in Harris. I thought they stunk (stank).

Oregon
P.S. Yuk!!

Kym said...

I learned a bunch about Lampreys that I had never heard before.

The only thing I can remember about them is we called them suckers (at least I think these are the same things) and they hung out in a rock at our swimming hole and creeped me out!

Ernie Branscomb said...

stinked

I probably wouldn't have eaten them when I was a kid, but just like the acorns, I would try them now. I would try them because I now know how important some foods were to the local Indian people.

My mother said that Genevieve Hardy brought some fried Eel to the restaurant in Briceland back in the early sixties. She tried them, but said that they were cold and too greasy. But, just like lamb, it might taste better hot.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Kym
suckers are different than eels. Suckers look like a carp with a bottom facing sucker mouth. suckers are a true fish, fins and all. They are fun to catch on a hook and line. they fight hard.

I added a photo of the "Sucker" at the bottom the Eel post above.

Idaho said...

Little teriyaki sauce, sticky rice, nori, ...sushi!

Ekovox said...

The Klamath-Trinity Indians subsisted on a diet of Eels among other fish. I've seen them by the bucketfuls. The eel baskets the Yuroks used to catch them with were quite the nifty devices. I've had them before, smoked. Nothing to write home about. Pretty oily.

Yep, eels and suckers are two different beasts.

olmanriver said...

That LK Wood account of the Gregg party of 1849-50 is great. The narrative goes on to say that the party, continually desperate for food, kept trading the Indians pieces of a useless iron frying pan into pieces for eels, getting as many as thirty eels for a piece of the highly esteemed metal.
As most know, they then named the Eel River.
This expedition also gave the Mad River its name, after an onshore argument, and the Van Duzen river took its name from a menber of the party, James Van Duzen.

Idaho said...

Thanks for that first hand account Eko. Do you think if you took little pieces and made unagi out of it, would it have a comparable taste to what we get in sushi restaurants?

Anonymous said...

Idaho, I have never been in a sushi restaurant, I've never even seen a sushi restaurant so I guess you know I've never eaten sushi. I will tell you that in Southeast Alaska they have what is called hooligan and are similar in size to surf fish and after drying they will burn like a candle. I never ate any of those either but I do know they are oily.

Oregon

Ekovox said...

Idaho, are you talking about something you might get at a bait shop?

Eating eel is what local people do when they live off the land. Americans eating sushi is something city-bred folk do.

One is for subsistence, the other is about style.

Venison backstaps or veal scallopini?

Me? Ketchup and Tabasco takes care of everything.

Idaho said...

Good answer Eko. I won't be taking my sushi roller when I go camping.

Oregon, how I loved netting and eating hooligan. Every net was heavy. Used to go a few stream openings into the Cook inlet south of Anchorage. I was little so I don't remember the cooking process but they were good, wasn't aware of their oiliness.

As you said, the Indian diet was one of survival, and when you are hungry, you don't balk at oily taste.

Anonymous said...

I can't see how lampreys would taste like unagi. I've eaten eel Indian style up in the Orleans area and I thought it just tasted awful. Unagi however is one of my favorites. Maybe I just haven't been hungry enough to appreciate it.

olmanriver said...

I think Idaho was hoping that a small amount of northcoast eel, as one would use in an unagi roll, if prepared in teriyaki, might be comparable to restaurant fare.
Unagi means freshwater eel. "As for the eels themselves, the best are caught wild rather than bred in eel farms, with the ideal size between 30 and 50 centimeters (12-20 inches). Fancy unagi restaurants keep tanks full of live eels, and they don't begin preparing your eel until after you've ordered. This process takes a bit of time and patience, but you're guaranteed completely fresh eel, and many diners feel the results are well worth the wait."
This enviro site gives the Asian dominated unagi market the big "Eco-Worst Choice". In the section on American Eels, people are advised to avoid them, as bottom feeders they accumulate mercury and PCB's.
18 grams of protein per 100 grams.

If anyone wants to get a detailed description of lamprey preparation, Yurok Robert Spott left us accounts in Kroeber and Barrett, and on page 437 of Paul D. Campbell's Survival Skills of Native California.

olmanriver said...

Oregon-- Idaho wasn't remembering the oiliness of his childhood "hooligan" episodes. This site talks about the disappearing "candlefish" runs, and early smelt oil trade.

Anonymous said...

With all do respect to Ross, I don't want to eat any eels and it has nothing to do with the way they feels. I am not native American but if I were, I would just eat deer, bear, salmon and black berries. Maybe a few other assorted items, like ice cream or Wild Turkey.

Oregon

suzy blah blah said...
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Hatchling Sub-muck said...

Smelt that one coming.

Ben said...

Ernie... I do remember the eel run, around June, as I recall. Dead eels all over the place and hung up in the brush. I remember seeing eel fishermen out with their lanterns and eel hooks and a sack. Usually they wore chest waders and I remember a few drownings when some poor guy stepped in a hole and his waders filled. The suckers swam in great shoals in the bottom of the deep holes and there were a few perch or sunfish of some kind. When the water was turbid you could catch bullheads. Don't know about smelt.
I've eaten smoked eels with acorn soup. Greasy but not bad at all. My friend Gray Cloud would get them canned from his family on the Klamath. Right now, I have a quart of acorn soup in the fridge. I notice I haven't gotten into it yet. An acquired taste, for sure. Canned smoked eels are pretty ugly in a jar.
It's taken such a short time to decimate all these species but the world is old and I hope time will bring them back.

spyrock said...

well its my theory that the ancient japanese hunted seal and otter all the way down to south america. they were a warrior race and its hard to say where they really originiated. they might have originated in peru and come north to alaska down to central asia and japan. so eating eel is an ancient sushi tradition. and today mccrystal was saying that they didn't have enough men to put a scare into the taliban who have been beheading afghans who exhibit loyalty to the west. all these people are related. they have the same language. so when you are talking about eating eel on the eel. its way much more than that.

Anonymous said...

Suzy, did I mention that my middle and last name is Hooligan.
Please come home.

Oregon

Anonymous said...

I just came in to shut down my computer. I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up "Waco" was on the History Channel. I ain't takin' sides here but i went through two gas schools and for the most part CS is the gas of choice. We called it "Chicken Shit". That is tear gas for the ones that don't know. I get my dander up when I see this documentary because the canisters burn at 2,000° plus. So y'all can make up your mind how that place caught on fire.
I have had to walk through CS gas and I will tell you that I would rather eat an eel.

Oregon

suzy blah blah said...
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suzy blah blah said...
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Anonymous said...

I love you Suzy

olmanriver said...

I suspect that Suz is a fan of Atomic Hooligan's latest music offering: Sex, Drugs And Blah Blah Blah

From sweet and tender hooligan by the Smiths: "He was a sweet and tender hooligan, hooligan
And he said that he'd never, never do it again
And of course he won't (oh, not until the next time)"

suzy blah blah said...
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suzy blah blah said...
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olmanriver said...

Sorta figures hooligan is an Irish word:
"Word History: This word first appeared in print in the police-court reports of a newspaper in the summer of 1898. That it comes from a corruption of the phrase, Hooley's gang, is highly doubtful. More likely it derives from the name of some Irish ruffian by the name of Hooligan. The name figured in a popular music-hall song of the 1890s, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family. There was also a comic Irish character by the same name in a series of adventures in Funny Folks, a penny tabloid printed in Manchester in the late 19th century. In 1901 a hapless hobo with a tin can as a hat named Happy Hooligan came to be one of the most popular comic characters in the US."

"The strip told the adventures of a well-meaning hobo who encountered a lot of misfortune and bad luck, partly because of his looks and his low position in society, but who did not lose his smile over it."

suzy blah blah said...
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olmanriver said...

"The Happy Hooligan strip is not well known to the public today, but it influenced quite a few later cartoonists. Rube Goldberg's Boob McNutt was at least partly derivative of the character — as, for that matter, was Charlie Chaplin's character, "The Little Tramp". The over-the-top punishments that befell Happy were echoed a generation later in Al Capp's Li'l Abner, and later yet in the Carl Barks version of Donald Duck. And during the Gerald Ford administration, Jules Feiffer usually depicted Ford as Happy Hooligan — right down to the tin can on top of his head."

The Smiths are rad. 'Specially Susie Q Smith.

suzy blah blah said...
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Beavis said...

"Uhhh...huuuuhhhhuuuu Uhhhh.hhhhuguuuuuuggghhhh....She said cucumber".

Butthead said...

cewl

Anonymous said...

Yeah but what does Oregon say?

H. Rivierra said...
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H. Rivierra said...
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suzy blah blah said...
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olmanriver said...
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gabby haze said...
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H. Rivierra said...
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Idaho said...
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Ernie Branscomb said...

I apologize to my good commentors. I have removed a few comments, as you can see.

Either somebody has an incredibly good sense of humor and they are playing a joke on me by becoming Bevis and Butthead type humorous, or they are trying to hurt one another’s feelings. I thought, “if I’m not smart enough to see the humor, others must not be either” so I deleted them.

You can find my email address in the top left area of the blog front page if you have anything confidential to tell me. I never reveal an email address to a third party without permission. Otherwise, I don’t like to delete comments, but I like for commentors to feel safe here, with friendly banter and informative conversation.
Ernie

Anonymous said...

I have never had my poetry more insulted!

Ernie Branscomb said...

Anon "Party A",
Your poem was eloquent indeed! Sorry that I deleted it, but "Party B" was also eloquent, and also deleted. There is some fairness there.

What distresses me is that both "A" and "B" are great commentors and I hate to loose them, but there is too much potential for hurt feelings.

So, I looked to history, and conjured the wisdom of Solomon, I cut the baby in half. It was only later that I found out that Solomon didn’t really cut the baby in half, he just told the two parties what would happen if they failed to get along. Why do I always catch on so late?

suzy blah blah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ernie Branscomb said...

Dear "party B" Thank-you for deleting your own comment. I admire your wit and intelligence, and I welcome your comments here, but please refrain from personal attacks, whether they are right or wrong. I may be stupid, but I’m fairly perceptive, and I perceive nothing coming of this tack but hurt feelings. Yours, mine, and others, what good can come of that? Can revenge really be that sweet?

Oh hell… I suppose revenge may be, but let’s not… Please

suzy blah blah said...

Ernie completely misunderstood the whole thing.

suzy blah blah said...

please refrain from personal attacks

False accusation.

olmanriver said...

He was looking out for us,
have to go with it. I have everything on a Word Doc which I will be downloadingonto a CD and selling for big bucks at the Summer Arts Faire.
Ernie's Place, the unexpurgated version, before Eelgate.

Idaho said...

A toast to the great commenters A & B, whose edited comments set a new record for this blog.

Idaho said...

Crap, not funny, we lost her.

suzy blah blah said...

He was looking out for us

Yes i know, but what the blogmiester apparently misunderstood was that it was a parody of a comment on a take off of an explanation that was made.

olmanriver said...

Yup.
I thought it was all no harm, but the call was made...
You had some good lines, I likened hearing your words to getting spanked by Laura Croft.

Idaho said...

There was a point when I almost said:
"The sex life of a cucumber is a bit complex.
Monoecious plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Gynoecious plants have only female flowers. Androecious plants have only male flowers. Hermaphroditic plant have only hermaphrodite (stamin and pistil together) flowers. Andromonoecious have separate male and hermaphrodite flowers. Didoecious have either only male or only female flowers on one plant. Fortunately, most cultivars are either gynoecious or monoecious. Seed companies generally add a few monoecious seeds to each pack of gynoecious seeds. These seeds are often dyed a different color."

Would this thread have gone any different?

suzy blah blah said...

There was a point when I almost said:

it's good that you didn't bother.

suzy blah blah said...

eeep! i didn't mean that, i want to delete that last post but my battery is nearly empty, i don't have time to ...AHHHHH --there she goes ... (the battery)

huggles,
s

Ernie Branscomb said...

" somebody has an incredibly good sense of humor and they are playing a joke on me "

See? I was right again, the joke was on me. But, I am glad that it wasn't personal, (if I may presume to put words in "B's" mouth.)

Ernie Branscomb said...

Sleep tight sweet prince,("A") and Huggles ("B").

The Paranoid Blogmeister.

spyrock said...

"the eolutionary challenge of our current cycle, which makes its final evolutionary move this november is ethics. in this cycle, we are growing our capacity to choose with the 'good of the larger whole' in mind. we are transcending our limited self interest and learning to choose for the good of all life....it is also the cycle of present condition and appreciation, being present in the moment, our five senses of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell, opening to the mystery that is unfolding in the present moment, awareness, opening to the gift of each moment, no matter how 'imperfect' the present moment may seem, and a belief in the inherent 'friendliness of the universe." in other words, you don't need a versus b. you are the alphabet.

suzy blah blah said...

you don't need a versus b.

verses be (deleted)

Idaho said...

Is this a verse case scenario?

olmanriver said...

Only if gabby starts singing happy birthday to Suz!
HB...S!

suzy blah blah said...

thanks omr.

RLC said...

I have been under the impression that eels spawned in the ocean just the opposite of fish like salmon. The only fish that does.

Ernie Branscomb said...

RLC. That's true, but if you read the story you will find that the fish is a Lamprey, not an Eel.