The new Link
River Dam fish ladder could soon have
endangered sucker fish swimming up it,
federal scientists say.
Water is now tumbling
down the Link River fish ladder and soon
endangered sucker fish will be swimming up it,
federal scientists say.
"The migration is just beginning now," said
Rich Piaskowski, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
If successful, the
migration will be the first since the Link
River dam was put in from 1920 to 1921. The
dam, on the river that links Upper Klamath
Lake to Lake Ewauna, blocked suckers that swam
down from going back up.
The new fish ladder will fix that, Piaskowski
said. "I expect they are going to run right
through this thing," he said.
The ladder, the second-flattest in the United
States with a 10-foot climb over a 300-foot
run, has a smooth grade created by 33 baffles
with slots in them.
Until recently it was
unconfirmed whether Lost River and shortnose
suckers, both federally protected species,
swam through the murky waters of Lake Ewauna,
still cloudy from decades as a log storage
pond. However, for three years, federal
scientists have been catching suckers in the
lake, putting electronics in them and then
their monitoring the movements.
Scientists slid two kinds of hardware into the
fish - "pit" tags and radio tags. The pit tags
are like giant grains of rice, stuck into the
flesh at the bottom of the fish, while the
radio tags are larger and are put into the
The radio tags can be detected from afar while
the pit tags need to be scanned from a caught
fish or a fish that passes by checkpoints.
Scientists are now setting up five such
checkpoints, made by a ring of wire strung
through plastic pipe, in the fish ladder. The
checkpoints will detect any of the 100 suckers
scientists plan to tag with pit tags in the
Another 30 suckers
will also get radio tags, Piaskowski said.
The migration should be heaviest this month
and next, when the suckers are looking for
spawning ground, he said.
With the new electronics in the fish ladder,
scientists will get an idea of how many
suckers use it, when, and if they come back
through. But other questions will be left to
linger, including why suckers that are radio
tagged have a high mortality rate.
Piaskowski said more
than half of the fish radio tagged in the last
three years have died, but it's unclear if it
is water quality, the radio tagging process -
a type of minor surgery - or something else
that is causing their deaths.
He is confident that the fish ladder will help
suckers that want to go up to Upper Klamath
Lake get to their goal.
The easy grade of the
new fish ladder will also be inviting for
other species of fish, said Chuck Korson,
Bureau fish passage manager, including redband
trout, lampreys and salmon if they are
reintroduced to the area.
"The design is fish friendly for multiple
species," he said.
Unlike the old-style
fish ladder still on the west side of the Link
River, the new ladder doesn't have rungs or
steps for the fish to jump in order to get
over the dam.
While salmon and trout could make the leap up
the steps, there was a problem.
"Suckers can't jump
like a salmon or trout," Piaskowski said.
The tagging program has been going on for
three years, but most the fish already tagged
won't be detected. After 12 to 14 months the
radio tags lose their charge and the older pit
tags aren't picked up by the new rings.
Across the river from the new fish ladder is
the old ladder, which fits the name more. Now
unused, the old ladder had a series of small
walls fish needed to vault over to get past
Research into the tagged fish in the last
three years showed some of the suckers wanted
to migrate up the Link River, but couldn't get
up the ladder, Piaskowski said.
The construction of the new fish ladder should
end up costing the Bureau $2.5 million, Korson
said, well below its original budget $3.2
Workers are still waiting for electronic
motors to put on the gates that control the
flow of water through the ladder, and for
weather to warm up to put down a new parking
lot at the Link River nature trail head off of
The project should be done in June and the
Link River trail should reopen, officials