Yukon fishermen wait for the lampreys to arrive

by Angela Denning-Barnes on October 24, 2011

Lamprey harvest on the Yukon. Photo courtesy of Kwik'pak Fisheries.

Besides being harvested for subsistence on the Lower Yukon, lamprey eels will once again be the target of commercial fishermen. The timing of the up-coming fishery will depend on when the Yukon River freezes and the lampreys start migrating upriver.

Over the last 8 years, the Lower Yukon CDQ group, Kwik’pak Fisheries, has been issued a state permit to buy the eels. The harvest is limited to 20 metric tons or what is 44,080 pounds. However, conditions have to be favorable for that much to be harvested. The usual harvest is around 20 to 25,000 pounds.

Lamprey eels are one of the oldest living fish in the world. They can grow up to 2 feet long and weigh about a third to a half a pound each. They have small fins that run along the length of their bodies and have sucker-shaped round mouths for attaching to other fish which they feed off of.

The commercial opening targeting lampreys mainly draws in fishermen from Russian Mission upriver to Grayling because of logistics. In that area, fishermen can plan to be ready for the harvest as reports of the migration come in from downriver. Kwik’pak has just one buying station at Grayling.

Lamprey eels contain about 30 percent oil content. Part of the market for them includes pharmaceutical oils.

Kwik’pak has been paying local fishermen 1.50 a pound for lampreys in recent years.

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