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Sucker fish return in droves
Herald and News 11/2/06

Dan Bennetts, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, shakes a catch of fish from a net set up in 2003 at the A Canal headgates. H&N file photo

November 2, 2006 by STEVE KADEL, H&N Staff Writer

 It has been a banner year for suckers and water quality conditions in the Upper Klamath Basin.

More larval and juvenile suckers reached Upper Klamath Lake than any year since federal agencies began counting 12 years ago

In August, the Klamath Project's A-Canal fish screen and bypass facility at the southern part of the lake recorded 4,000 juvenile suckers per hour entering the lake. About 50 per hour were counted in 2004.

Several factors helped, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Those included a wet winter and spring, a cooler-than-average August, and fewer fathead minnows in the lake this summer. The latter are a key predator of larval suckers. Curt Mullis of the Fish and Wildlife Service said the wet winter was probably “the strongest thing we can hang our hat on” as far as a cause.

He said there have been many restoration efforts in the Sprague River area, but it's unknown how much impact those projects had.

“We will be looking for that clue that will tell us where we should go to find the keystone actions,” Mullis said.

Beneficial water temperatures - lower than during the previous three years - also helped create good conditions for suckers. Another positive factor was a high concentration of dissolved oxygen.

“If you have low dissolved oxygen it's like cutting the oxygen supply to an organism, and it makes it susceptible to disease,” Mullis said.

The shortnose and Lost River suckers were listed as an endangered species in 1988. Upper Klamath Lake is their primary habitat.

Mullis cautioned it's too early to believe suckers are on their way to recovery. Suckers produced this year must survive for five to 10 years to mature, spawn, and contribute to an increased population.

“We're not getting over-confident,” Mullis said.

A new recovery plan for suckers is being written. It updates the one Fish and Wildlife Service completed in 1993, factoring in new science.

Mullis said agency officials will seek significant public input as they hammer out the revision. One of its goals is to determine a measuring stick to gauge recovery.

“We'll try to get a handle on what recovery looks like,” Mullis said.


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