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Endangered Sucker Release- A Small Step Toward a Great Need

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Klamath Tribal Chairman, Don Gentry, (541) 783-2219 ext. 100 or email:

Endangered Sucker Release- A Small Step Toward a Great Need

Chiloquin, OR.- The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is planning on the initial release of a portion of 2,500 Lost River and Shortnose suckers for 2018 on March 20th in the Shoalwater Bay area.  Although, the Klamath Tribes appreciate this effort, we feel strongly that in order to be effective this needs to be accomplished on a much larger scale.  We also are saddened that we are at the point where artificial propagation is now a necessary step in attempt to save these species from extinction.

The C’waam (Lost River sucker) and Koptu (Shortnose sucker) are essential tribal treaty resources for the Klamath Tribes.  In addition to providing for the Tribes’ subsistence, these treaty resources are central to the Tribes’ ability to maintain and exercise their cultural and spiritual practices, which in turn are critical to the physical and social health of tribal families and community.  Without these treaty resources, the Tribes do not have the ability to live as Klamath People in the way their Creator intended.  The Klamath Tribes have a responsibility to restore and steward the C’waam and Koptu, and other tribal treaty resources, for their current members and future generations.

According to information provided from the Klamath Tribes Aquatic’s Department, endangered Lost River and Shortnose sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake have been steadily declining since the mid-1990s.  There has been no sign of major recruitment into the adult population in over two decades and remaining adult suckers are near the end of their life expectancy.  In 2017, a major sucker die-off occurred further reducing population numbers.  In fact, Tribal fisheries staff gathered approximately 200 deceased adult endangered suckers from just the Shoalwater Bay area alone during this die-off.

The endangered sucker recovery plan calls for development of a controlled propagation program when sucker populations decline by 75% since 2001.  Shortnose sucker populations dropped below this threshold in 2013 and Lost River sucker populations are nearing this level.  The USFWS initiated the sucker rearing activity in 2014 and had a goal of producing 10,000 juvenile suckers over 5 years.

Based on population growth modeling, under the current assisted rearing program sucker populations will continue to decline unless a major recruitment event occurs in Upper Klamath Lake.  The Klamath Tribes believe that the assisted rearing program must be expanded to rear and release approximately 100,000 2-year old suckers per year.  The Klamath Tribal Council believes the following information should be considered when assessing the scope of this issue:

  • The US Fish and Wildlife Service will release its first group of age 2 suckers this spring (2,500).
  • Based on funding from Bureau of Reclamation, they propose to rear and release 10,000 age 2 suckers over 5 years (2,000 per year).
  • Additional grant funding received by FWS this year provides additional short-term resources to increase the number of fish reared at Gone Fishing to 10,000 per year
  • Based on US Fish and Wildlife Service population growth modeling, the assisted rearing program should be expanded to 100,000 age 2 sucker per year just to stabilize the populations at the current levels
  • Substantially more than 100,000 fish per year need to be reared and released to get sucker populations on an increasing trend
  • The Klamath Tribes submitted a 6 year $2.64 million proposal to rear and release 100,000 age 2 suckers per year because the FWS program is not adequate to keep the sucker populations from going extinct.

Based on a maximum life expectancy of 30 years for Short Nose suckers, extinction could occur in 5-10 years since the current Upper Klamath Lake population is mostly 20 years old and older.  The Lost River sucker is in a slightly better position due to a life expectancy of 40 years and a larger existing population, but extinction could still happen in 13-15 years.

The planned release of suckers is a small and welcome step to their recovery, however it is necessary that this effort be expanded significantly. The Klamath Tribes stand ready to coordinate with the appropriate federal entities to assist in addressing this critical need.

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