Shining a light on the LAMPrey

An ancient fish species is benefiting from water released for the environment into Gippsland river systems.

The lamprey, a rare, primitive eel-like fish is not known for its good looks.

According to Environmental Water Officer, Jemima Milkins, adult lampreys have no jaws, so it uses a toothed, funnel-like sucking mouth and lives as a parasite on other fish, attaching itself to the gills or side of its prey.

“The lamprey is definitely one of the more unusual fish species that migrate through our river systems,” explains Jemima.

“It’s been likened to something you might see in a pie on Game of Thrones.”

Like many migratory fish, the lamprey moves between saltwater and freshwater to complete their lifecycle. They migrate from the sea and travel large distances upriver to spawn. Releases of water for the environment have seen lampreys migrate upstream an astonishing 900km.

“Lampreys resemble eels in that they have scaleless, elongated bodies but they are actually a fish. The shorthead lamprey, which we get in the Latrobe River, has teeth arranged in a circle in its mouth to help it attach to other fish.”

“Because of the changes we humans have made to river systems, water for the environment releases are essential to help trigger breeding and lifecycle stages for migratory fish, like the lamprey.”

Water for the environment releases also helps improve upper bank vegetation, improving habitat for birds, fish and other species.

The next release of water for the environment will be to the Heyfield Wetlands during mid-August. Ten mega-litres of water will be released in the Thomson River and be diverted to the wetlands. A community event is being held to 16 August at the wetlands. For more information, go to www.wgcma.vic.gov.au.

Jemima said the coordination of water for the environment released into the river systems in Gippsland highlighted the partnership between West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Gippsland Water, Southern Rural Water, Melbourne Water and the Victorian Environmental Water Holder.

Published Monday August 5th 2019

Shorthead lamprey, photo by Dr Michael Hammer
The oral disc of the Shorthead lamprey, photo by Dr Michael Hammer