ID of Range Extent of the Morrison Creek Lamprey in Canada – MacConnachie, Wade, & Waters

Identification of Range Extent of the Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni var. marifuga) in Canada

Sean MacConnachie

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 3190 Hammond Bay Rd., Nanaimo, BC, V9T 9B3

Joy Wade

Fundy Aqua Services Inc., 1859 Delanice Way, Nanoose Bay, BC, V9P 9B3

Mike Waters

Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Suite 1530-401 Burrard St. Vancouver, BC V6C 3S4



In 2014, preliminary surveys were undertaken to assess the extent of distribution of lamprey in the headwaters of Morrison Creek in Courtenay, BC. In support of the identification of critical habitat of Morrison Creek lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni var. marifuga), further studies were undertaken in June and July 2015 to determine if adult lamprey were present in the headwaters. Until this time they had only been observed in the main stem of the creek. Over the 23 days of trapping, 176 lamprey were caught and measured, 15 of which were adult L. richardsoni variety marifuga. This information confirms the increased expansion of the previously reported distribution of L. richardsoni variety marifuga within the Morrison Creek watershed.

Keywords: lamprey, conservation, range, distribution, Morrison Creek



Morrison Creek lamprey, Lampetra richardsoni variety marifuga are present only in Morrison Creek in Courtenay, British Columbia (National Recovery Team for Morrison Creek Lamprey 2007); it is a variety of western brook lamprey (L. richardsoni). In 1995, this species was assessed as Endangered by COSEWIC and is currently protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA).  Very little information is known about the biology, status and extent of range of this population of lamprey. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to address some of these basic science questions and inform the protection and management of the population as reflected in the recovery strategy (National Recovery Team for Morrison Creek Lamprey 2007), specifically, the determination of abundance and distribution of the species.

In 2014 and 2015, in conjunction with Hancock Forest Management, surveys were undertaken to begin determining the extent of distribution of lamprey in the headwaters of Morrison Creek; specifically within the company’s property (Wade and MacConnachie 2014). Previous surveys focused on areas of the creek within the city of Courtenay with limited efforts elsewhere (Beamish 1987, Beamish 2013, Wade and MacConnachie 2014).

In 2014 passive milk crate traps (Wade and MacConnachie 2014) were installed and monitored on Hancock Forest Management land for ammocoetes and recently metamorphosed lamprey.  Because it is not possible to distinguish between L. richardsoni and L. richardsoni var. marifuga at either of these stages, areas identified as successful trapping locations in 2014 were further studied in 2015 using a different type of trap in order to determine if L. richardsoni var. marifuga were present in this headwater region.



Following the methods described in Wade and MacConnachie (2014) three in-stream, flow through traps were installed in the upper reaches of Morrison Creek. All traps were installed in the main stem of Morrison Creek (Figure 1) and contained HOBO TidbiTv2 temperature data loggers to record water temperatures. Trap site selection required the presence of a mix of sandy/silty habitat where the trap could be buried in the sediment, such that the inflow pipe was submerged. Moderate stream flow is required to move fish toward the mouth of the intake pipe.  Traps were installed in early summer when L. richardsoni var. marifuga are known to be in or near spawning condition (Beamish 2013).

Traps were checked daily until their removal on July 6, 2015.  Traps were removed earlier than planned due to extreme fire hazard and drought conditions. Any non-lamprey species were identified, enumerated and released downstream of the trap. Lamprey were removed from the trap with a small dip net and placed in an anesthetic bath (100-125 ppm tricaine methanesulfonate).  Once fish were sedated, they were removed from the bath, identified (L. richardsoni or L. richardsoni var. marifuga), identified to stage of development, and measured for total length.  After sampling, they were placed in a recovery bucket with creek water. Once completely recovered they were returned to the creek, downstream of the trap.



Three traps were fished for a total of 69 trapping days from June 13 to July 6, 2015 (Figure 2).  A total of 176 lamprey were captured (Table 1), 156 L. richardsoni, 5 ammocoetes and 15 L. richardsoni var. marifuga.  Lamprey were captured each day throughout the sampling period (Figure 2).

L. richardsoni var. marifuga ranged in length from 9.8 to 15.6 cm (N=15) and a mean of 12.06 cm (Figure 3). L. richardsoni ranged in length from 8.9 to 14.5 cm (N=156), mean length of 11.17cm. Ammocoetes ranged from 6.2 to 11.6 cm in length (N=5), with mean of 9.4cm.


This survey was undertaken to determine the presence and extent of the range of L. richardsoni var. marifuga in the headwaters of Morrison Creek.  This information is important in that it increases our knowledge of distribution of L. richardsoni var. marifuga within the Morrison Creek watershed that was previously only known to occur in the lower reaches of the creek within the boundary limits of the city of Courtney. The results will inform Hancock Forest Management land planning.  This work also supports the recent recommendations for critical habitat for this species (Wade et al 2015).


We would like to acknowledge and thank all participants including: Mike Anderson, Dan Fox, Craig Stephen, Linnea Flostrand and Jim Wade. Special thanks to the staff of Hancock Forestry Management for this support and cooperation. This work was funded by the DFO Species at Risk Program.


Beamish, R. J.  1987.  Evidence that parasitic and nonparasitic life history types are produced by one population of lamprey.  Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 44: 1779‑1782.

Beamish, R. 2013. A summary of the early field studies of the Morrison Creek lamprey and a new assessment of its taxonomy. Can. Tech. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 3031: iv + 36 p.

National Recovery Tram for Morrison Creek Lamprey. 2007. Recovery strategy for the Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni var.  marifuga) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Wade, J., and S. MacConnachie. 2014.  Summary of Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni variety marifuga) trapping studies 2011-2014. Can. Manuscr. Rep. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 3047: iv + 14p.

Wade, J., N. Pinnell, G. Kosminder, and S. MacConnachie. 2015.  Information to support the identification of critical habitat for the Morrison Creek Lamprey (Lampetra richardsoni var. marifuga). DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Res. Doc. 2015/031. v + 24 p.


Table 1: Lamprey catches in the headwaters of Morrison Creek in 2015.

Number of lamprey
Trap 1  

Trap 2

Trap 3 Total
L. richardsoni 13 138 1 152
L. richardsoni var. marifuga 4 11 0 15
Ammocoete 2 1 2 5
Total 19 150 3 172


Figure 1. Trap locations in the Morrison Creek headwaters within Hancock Forest Management property for the 2015 survey. Traps identified as 1-3 corresponding to results presented in Table 1.

Figure 2. Daily capture rates of L. richardsoni, L. richardsoni var. marifuga and ammocoetes in Morrison Creek headwaters in 2015.

Figure 3. Length distribution of L. richardsoni var. marifuga , L. richardsoni and ammocoetes from the headwaters of Morrison Creek 2015. Red diamond= mean, black lines in the boxes show the median, upper and lower limits of boxes represent 75th and 25th percentiles respectively, whiskers represent highest and lowest values within the 75th and 25th percentiles, and dots are outliers.

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