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HSU Grad Student receives grant to study Pacific Lamprey in the Klamath River

KLAMATH - A Fisheries Biology Graduate Student at Humboldt State University was recently awarded with an environmental fellowship to conduct research on a tribal trust fish species in the Klamath River.

Yurok Tribal Member Keith Parker says some of his first childhood memories are rowing a boat, running gill nets and fishing with his grandfather on the Klamath River. Those experiences left a lasting impression.  

"It's instilled within us culturally that we have a responsibility to be good stewards to the land and to the river," said Parker.

Over the years Parker has witnessed the devastating salmon fish kills, the rise in algae blooms, and the death of a mother gray whale that was stranded in the Klamath.

"So all of these things, quite frankly, they angered me,” said Parker. “And made me want to go out and do something about this once and for all. And I figured if I didn't do it now at this time in my life that I probably wouldn't do it as I got older."

Parker went back to school to obtain his undergrad from Humboldt State University in his 40’s. He is now a Fisheries Biologist working toward his Master's Degree at HSU with a focus on genetics.

Parker has received research awards and almost $180,000 in grants. Most recently, a $15,000 environmental fellowship grant from the Switzer Foundation to conduct a twelve month study on the pacific lamprey's genetic structure. Parker is conducting his research at the mouth of the Klamath River. He takes 40 pacific lampreys entering the system and records their morphometrics and specifically looks for adaptive genetic markers. 

"Then on top of that, I take tissue samples. Later-on I will process those tissue samples at Humboldt State University, where I’ll extract the DNA and we will compare the DNA not only among them spatial temporally, over time and space, but also to the upriver juveniles."

Parker says tribes in Washington are raising artificial lampreys and putting them into the streams. He says biologists need to understand which genotype they're working with to ensure chances of survival.

"Nature works and then we start messing with it and we can create all kinds of havoc,” Parker said. “So we need to understand before we start translocating animals, exactly are those animals going to effectively propagate in that habitat."

Parker also says the study is extremely pertinent with the anticipated 2020 dam removal, which will open up hundreds of miles of spawning grounds. He stresses the importance of pacific lampreys in the ecosystem and that literature suggests pacific lampreys were the largest biomass of any fish in the Klamath River System.    

"So anadromous fish that are coming in from the ocean and returning upriver to reproduce and die, they're the only ones that are taking nutrients back upriver and they're taking the most advantageous nutrients. They're taking marine nutrients and their carcasses when they die and it’s absorbed into that system. So they’re invaluable," said Parker.

Parker says he hopes his work will inspire more people to get involved with the environmental movement to effect change.

By: Sierra Jenkins