Saving the sucker
Sucker holds significance for tribes
|KBC COMMENT: According to Klamath Basin Restoration
Agreement advocates, power ratepayers and taxpayers must pay
millions/billions$ to decimate four Klamath River dams
because salmon must come into the Klamath Basin and beyond
because they supposedly provided food for the Indians. In
this article, tribal biologist said the indians staple was
suckers; they would have starved without suckers. What was
it, suckers or salmon?
By Jill Aho, Herald and News 9/13/09
The Klamath Tribes are actively monitoring water quality and
nutrient loading in Upper Klamath Lake as part of research and
recovery efforts for endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers,
said Larry Dunsmoor, a research biologist with the Tribes.
Once an abundant food supply for Native Americans in the region,
sucker (called c’wam by the Tribes) numbers have steadily declined
in the past 20 years.
“The Klamath people might not be here today if not for the c’wam,”
Dunsmoor said. “C’wam were a reliable food source that ran up the
rivers in spring in large numbers and were fairly easy to catch.
Coming out of hard winters, the c’wam runs probably saved many
tribal folks from starvation.”
The suckers have cultural significance for tribal members, but
also are unique to the area, and can be found nowhere else in the
world, Dunsmoor said. He believes their recovery should matter to
“The declines in these fish have been caused by how people have
managed the land and water, and everyone should care that harm to
the rivers and lakes and fish has resulted, especially because it
does not have to be that way,” he added. “Such problems bring
regulatory action under laws like the Endangered Species Act that
perpetuate adversarial relationships among groups of people, and
at times bring harm to people.”
Dunsmoor said the controversial Klamath Basin Restoration
Agreement, a document intended to settle water disputes among
water users in the Klamath River watershed, is a way to positively
impact those adversarial relationships. He called the idea that
the dispute is a fish versus farmer argument is a misconception.
“The KBRA represents the biggest sucker recovery effort that is
likely to happen, and yet it also charts a clear course for
viability of agriculture,” he said. “Should those fighting against
the KBRA succeed in killing it, they guarantee the perpetuation of
regulation-based, adversarial approaches to sucker management (and
to other issues) that will be certain to harm agriculture.”
But Tom Mallams, an off-Project irrigator who leads a group
opposed to the restoration agreement, said the Tribes’ concern for
the sucker’s survival is a recent development.
“That fish will survive no matter what we do. You cannot kill that
fish. You literally cannot destroy the sucker fish,” he said.
“The sucker was only used in their diet when there was nothing
else to eat. There were times when they ate a lot of sucker fish,
yes, but it wasn’t a staple item like they claim it was in the
past,” he said. “Traditionally, it was not something that was
Tribal officials have denied those claims.
Mallams also said that off-Project irrigators have been left out
of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement negotiations.
Mallams pointed to work landowners have done to improve water
quality above Upper Klamath Lake.
“It’s not that we don’t want the sucker fish to survive,” he said.
“We have been leaders in restoration work. These things have been
going on for decades.”