Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Learning More about Blue Suckers in the Lower Missouri River
Midwest Region, December 1, 2007
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The Missouri River contains some of North America's most unique and ecologically important fish species.  For good reason, the endangered pallid sturgeon and paddlefish receive most of the attention.  But the little known blue sucker is a fascinating and important species in its own right. 


Missouri Department of Conservation currently lists blue sucker as "vulnerable," indicating this species is potentially vulnerable to extirpations or extinction.  Historical records indicate that this species was once far more common and supported a commercial fishery in the early 1900s.  Overfishing, dam construction, and habitat degradation are thought to have reduced the abundance of blue suckers. 


Blue suckers are most commonly found in free-flowing portions of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.  They are benthic, or bottom-dwelling, fish that feed mainly on aquatic insect larvae and are often captured in swift channels over sand, gravel or rock substrates.  We have found that pallid sturgeon and blue suckers often inhabit similar habitats. 


The combination of these factors has led to blue suckers inclusion as a target species in the Pallid Sturgeon Population Assessment Program for the Missouri River.  Columbia NFWCO and other Missouri River research entities collect length, weight and age data for blue suckers, along with detailed physical descriptions of their habitats.


Because of blue suckers' penchant for staying in swift currents in the open river, collecting them can be challenging.  We have found that a suite of gears, including stationary gill nets, drifted trammel nets and stern trawling, is most useful for collecting blue suckers.  The results of our sampling over the past five years suggest the blue sucker population in lower Missouri River is fairly stable. 


The capture of several young-of-year (YOY) blue suckers in 2007 was an especially promising sign.  Furthermore, presence of these fish, along with large classes of other YOY fish, suggests that high waters during spring, 2007 may have triggered successful spawns for many species.    


The blue sucker has spent eons shadowed in the murky waters of America's large rivers.  Rarely seen or talked about, blue suckers remain somewhat of a mystery.  Scientists are taking small steps towards unlocking the secrets of this curious creature.  Long-term monitoring Columbia NFWCO performs on the Missouri River will further contribute to our understanding of blue suckers.  Through better knowledge of blue suckers, we may conserve this unique species for future generations. 

Contact Info: Colby Wrasse, 573-234-2132 x30, colby_wrasse@fws.gov
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