Restoring fish and a dying lake…

The cultural, spiritual and economic health of the Klamath Tribes is inextricably linked to the health of C’waam and Koptu fish populations. Once the most important food-fish in the Upper Klamath Lake region, they were caught by the thousands as a mainstay of the Klamath Tribes’ diet. Now endangered, the Tribes’ are limited to harvesting just two fish every year for ceremonial purposes.

The collapse of our C’waam and Koptu fisheries has marched virtually in lockstep with the declining health of Upper Klamath Lake, the largest body of freshwater west of the Rocky Mountains. Chronically low water levels in the lake regularly cut off access to spawning and rearing habitat and starve fish of oxygen as annual blooms of toxic algae decompose.

One type of algae common in the lake produces toxins harmful to fish and people, forcing Oregon officials to post health warnings against swimming in the lake. Boating, birding, wildlife watching, paddling, fishing and economically valuable tourism are other casualties of a dying lake. A local sportswriter wrote in the Klamath Herald and News “Outside of the springtime, I avoid the lake like the plague.”

Once numbering in the tens of millions throughout the Upper Klamath River drainage, the C’waam and Koptu have been reduced to small, isolated spawning populations of less than 45,000 fish nearing the end of their lifespan. Both fish exist naturally only in the Upper Klamath Basin. Poor water management and irresponsible agricultural practices have decimated these unique and precious fish by destroying the habitat and water quality young fish need to survive.

The solution to healing the lake is more balanced management of water resources. The status quo merely seeks to keep C’waam and Koptu from going extinct. Setting out to keep our sacred fish and Upper Klamath Lake on life support isn’t good enough. We have to do better.

Ultimately, we want to see our fish thrive and once again support sustainable fisheries as a cornerstone of our plan to restore economic self-sufficiency for the Klamath Tribes. We continue to work for restoration of all that was taken away from us in the 1950s when the U.S. Government terminated our Tribal status.

We seek full restoration of our treaty rights to the natural resources on our ancestral lands: to hunt deer, elk and antelope, gather plants and to fish for C’waam and Koptu for food and ceremonial purposes.

After decades of fighting for our way of life, the Klamath Tribes’ status was restored in 1986, but coming back from the loss of cultural and spiritual identity and economic self-sufficiency remains a long journey. We still see the devastating legacy of termination every day.

We seek full restoration of our treaty rights to the natural resources on our ancestral lands: to hunt deer, elk and antelope, gather plants and to fish for C’waam and Koptu for food and ceremonial purposes.

Our creation story tells us that if the C’waam go away, the people go away.

C’waam (pronounced CH’waam) Koptu (pronounced Kop-too) C’waam, also known as Lost River suckers, can weigh over 10 pounds, reach three feet long, and live for up to 50 years. Koptu, or Shortnose suckers, are smaller, usually about 18 inches long, and live for more than 30 years.