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Tag, you’re it

  Biologists tagging endangered suckers in Lake Ewauna
  by SARA HOTTMAN, Herald and News 4/5/11
     At 7 a.m., Brock Phillips and Chas Kyger were bundled up on a small boat in Lake Ewauna pulling up nets they put in the water at 4 a.m.

   The morning was relatively warm — absent of the gale force winds from earlier in the week — but the water was still cool enough that their nets mostly contained driftwood and blue chub.

   But they had one success: a short-nosed sucker entangled in a net.

   The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the fourth consecutive spring is trying to capture and tag suckers in Lake Ewauna. The group went out on the lake Thursday to try to track the couple thousand thought to live in the lake.

   The group of endangered sucker was a surprise a few years ago. Biologists thought the water quality was too poor for the fish. Now the agency is working to quantify and track the fish to see if they can contribute to the Upper Klamath Lake sucker population.

   Phillips, a fish technician, and Kyger, a fish biologist, are tasked with catching suckers and inserting PIT tags, or passive integrated transponders — the same microchips owners embed in their pets.

   Over the life of the project biologists have tagged more than 900 fish, said Kevin Moore, public affairs specialist with the Bureau of Reclamation. Biologists estimate there are up to 2,000 suckers in Lake Ewauna.

   “ The initial reason (for tagging) was to find out how many there are,” said Alex Wilkens, a fish biologist with the Bureau. “The next step is to see if they try or are able to move back to Upper Klamath Lake using the new fish ladder on the Link River Dam.”

   They’ll track movement using the PIT tags, which transmit signals picked up by a reader.

   When Phillips passed a reader over the sucker an identification number appeared, meaning a repeat catch. About half the suckers the men   have caught this year are repeats, Kyger said.

   Not finished yet

   Later this month, when the water is warmer than 39 degrees, they expect to catch more suckers.

The estimated few thousand suckers are still a small group, Wilkens said, not necessarily a self-sustaining population — not large enough to potentially push the fish off the endangered species list.

   “It’s not a large enough group to impact (endangered) status,” Wilkens said. “If there were thousands and thousands maybe, but we’re looking at several hundred to a few thousand.”

   Upper Klamath Lake has the largest remaining sucker population. While biologists don’t intend to force fish to use the Link River Dam fish ladder, Wilkens said there is a possibility the Bureau would be required to do so in an effort to boost the lake population.  

  ABOVE: Fisheries biologist Chas Kyger, left, and Brock Phillips, fisheries technician,  both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, pull in a Lost River sucker from Lake Ewauna Thursday.




  LEFT: PIT tags used to track sucker movement are inserted under the skin.







  A Lost River sucker is scanned for a tracking tag after being netted in Lake Ewauna.











  H&N photos by Andrew Mariman

   Brock Phillips, a fisheries technician with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, holds a female Lost River sucker captured in one of three nets on Lake Ewauna Thursday.

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