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Fish and Wildlife plans to raise Klamath suckers

The Oregonian 5/14/2006 By JEFF BARNARD

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) In a more aggressive approach toward recovery of endangered fish involved in water wars in the Klamath Basin, the federal government hopes to capture and raise sucker larvae to better understand how to restore their numbers.

If granted permits from the state of Oregon, the U.S Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to collect about 10,000 shortnosed sucker and Lost River sucker larvae from Upper Klamath Lake, the Link River and Lake Ewauna starting in June and raise them at a private tropical fish hatchery outside Klamath Falls.

"This will help us better understand factors affecting sucker survival," said Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Buettner from Klamath Falls.

Some could be released into Upper Klamath Lake, but the captured fish are being raised primarily for research, said Fish and Wildlife field supervisor Curt Mullis.

Shortnosed suckers and Lost River suckers were declared endangered in 1988. During a drought in 2001, water was shut off to most of the Klamath Reclamation Project for much of the irrigation season to conserve water for the suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

The shutoff triggered a bitter confrontation between farmers and their supporters, the federal government, conservation groups and Indian tribes.

A fish screen has been built to keep suckers out of the irrigation canals, marsh habitat favored by juvenile suckers has been restored, and the removal of a dam blocking spawning habitat in the Sprague River is on track for removal, but water quality in the lake remains poor and both species of sucker have not recovered from major fish kills in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

Some fish equipped with radio tags could be released into Upper Klamath Lake to track what kinds of habitat they use, as well as the effectiveness of the A Canal fish screen, said Mullis, but habitat remains too poor to expect any effort to restore populations with fish raised in hatcheries to succeed.

Ever summer, algae blooms brought on by warm water and high levels of agricultural runoff cause low oxygen conditions that are stressful and sometimes lethal to suckers, Mullis added.

Marsh habitat favored by young suckers has been lost to agricultural land. Fathead minnows and yellow perch that are not native to the lake eat suckers. Spawning areas have been lost.

"We see millions of larvae going back to the lake, but few surviving to any age," he said.

After the irrigation shutoff, the National Academy of Sciences suggested trying to restore some historic spawning areas, and hatchery-raised fish could be used for that, but there are concerns over genetic issues that would have to be addressed first, Mullis said.

The Klamath Tribes have been raising suckers in a hatchery for several years for research, but they are not released into the lake.




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