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Suckers being moved from (Tulelake) refuge to (Klamath) lake

 H&N photo by Andrew Mariman Cramer Fish Science employees Tim Bauman and project leader Ian Courter grab a Lost River sucker to measure and tag before transplanting it from Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge to Upper Klamath Lake.
Endangered suckers living in Sump 1-A in the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge may not have enough water to survive this year.

That’s why the Bureau of Reclamation is currently engaged in an effort to relocate the fish to Upper Klamath Lake.

It is unknown how many Lost River and shortnose suckers are living in the 9,950 acres of open water. The sump is usually fed by agricultural runoff, but drought conditions this year have Bureau of Reclamation officials worried there won’t be enough water in Sump 1-A for the fish.

Drought conditions and lower irrigation water supplies are expected to reduce the amount of water that reaches Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, said Keith Schultz, chief fisheries biologist with the Bureau of Reclamation. Schultz said the average depth of the sump is 4 feet, and it loses an average of 3 to 4 feet of water through evaporation during the summer.

“With reduced irrigation this year, there is a concern that this body of water could get low,” Schultz said.

The suckers are thought to have arrived in Sump 1-A through the irrigation canal system, Schultz said.

“We think most, if not all, of these (fish) originated in Upper Klamath Lake, so we’re just putting them back where they came from,” he said.

High survival rate

The fish are expected to have a high survival rate because the water is still cool and the trucks used to move them have tanks with aerators, Schultz said.

Cramer Fish Science of Portland has been contracted by the Bureau of Reclamation to try to net as many endangered suckers from the open water as possible in the next week.

Ian Courter, project leader for Cramer Fish Science, estimated by the end of Wednesday his crew would have caught 200 Lost River and shortnose suckers in Sump 1-A.

It is unknown how many suckers are in Sump 1-A, Schultz said, but the Bureau of Reclamation has a permit to move as many as 2,000 fish. The fish are captured using trammel nets which tangle the fish up, but do not harm them. The nets are only designed to catch adult fish, and Schultz said few juveniles have been observed in Sump 1-A.

Whether the suckers have access to spawning grounds also is unknown, Schultz said.

“There is some hypothesizing that they can go up the Lost River by Anderson Rose Dam,” he said. The dam is a Bureau of Reclamation structure on the Lost River not far from the Tule Lake refuge.

“We believe the suckers will have a much better chance up (in Upper Klamath Lake) than here,” Schultz said.

Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Kevin Moore said collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state governments in both Oregon and California was needed to obtain the permits to move the fish.

“It was the consensus that this was the right thing to do,” he said.

Side Bar

Fish tagged before transport

Each Lost River and shortnose sucker captured in Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is being tagged with a passive integrated transponder (PIT) that will allow the Bureau of Reclamation and other interested agencies to track the fish’s movements after it is released, said Keith Schultz, chief fisheries biologist with the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lost River and shortnose suckers are long-lived fish, sometimes surpassing 40 years, Schultz said. A lot of data can be obtained through the PIT tags, he said. The fish being relocated are measured, their sex determined and the species is identified. That information is recorded along with the unique PIT tag number in a database, said Ian Courter, project leader for Cramer Fish Science, a contractor hired by the Bureau of Reclamation to relocate endangered suckers.

“If the fish is looking in rough shape, we’ll put that in the notes,” he said. “They look like they’re in great condition.”

Cramer and his crew had been catching Lost River and shortnose suckers around 20 inches long on Wednesday. By mid-afternoon, the crews had caught upward of 100 fish, he said.

The Link River fish ladder records the PIT tag information when fish pass by Link River Dam, and other PIT arrays are located along the Williamson and Sprague rivers, Schultz said. The area where Chiloquin Dam used to be is of special interest as scientists watch to see how many tagged fish are passing through the area that used to be blocked.

“It’s useful and relatively cheap,” he said.

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