2018 Recovery Champions

Klamath Basin sucker program team receives 2018 Pacific Southwest Region conservation award

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Klamath Basin Sucker Recovery Team members with their Recovery Champion awards at the sucker rearing facility near Klamath Falls. From left: external partners Ron Barnes, owner of Gone Fishing LLC and Tracey Liskey, of Liskey Farms; Josh Rasmussen, Evan Childress and Dan Blake of the Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office. Presenting the awards was Jody Holzworth (far right), deputy regional director. Credit: Susan Sawyer/USFWS


By Susan Sawyer
August 7, 2019

On Endangered Species Day in May, 10 members of the Klamath Basin sucker recovery team, eight former and current U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees and two external partners were selected as the Pacific Southwest Region Recovery Champions for 2018.

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Display of the 2018 Recovery Champions awards for the Klamath Basin sucker recovery team and a special plaque presented to Ron Barnes, owner of Gone Fishing LLC, for his contributions to the sucker assisted rearing program. Credit: Mike Long/USFWS

Members of the team are: Mike Senn, deputy assistant regional director, Ecological Services; Dan Blake, Klamath Falls Fish and Wildlife Office field supervisor; Evan Childress, sucker program supervisor; Josh Rasmussen, fish biologist; Joel Ophoff, fish technician; and former Service employees Laurie Sada, Kirk Groves and Julie Day; and external partners Ron Barnes and Tracey Liskey.

The team was recognized for their effective collaboration to research, fund, design and implement a successful rearing program to increase survival of juvenile endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers - found only within the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California - to spawning maturity.

“We have been very engaged in collaborative efforts for sucker recovery and conservation for several years now,” said Blake. “A lot of progress has been made in what we know about these fish and how to adaptively manage the sucker rearing program.”

A big part of the collaboration was creating a partnership with Gone Fishing LLC, a private fish farm owned by Ron Barnes, located south of Klamath Falls.

Together with Tracey Liskey, a neighboring farmer, the team built a sucker rearing facility on Barnes’ property, supplied by a geo-thermal well that puts out an abundance of naturally heated water. This makes a big difference in raising fish through the winter months, according to Service biologists.

The team cobbled together a collection of aquariums and round tanks to raise larval suckers indoors their first year and modified several outdoor ponds for acclimating juvenile suckers another six to 12 months.

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A juvenile sucker from the fish rearing facility near Kalamth Falls. Credit: USFWS

Evan Childress, sucker program supervisory biologist, explained that while adult suckers of both species continue to spawn successfully in the wild, they are nearing the upper range of their life expectancy. Juvenile suckers have not been detected in Upper Klamath Lake in over 20 years.

“The goal of the captive rearing program is to help juvenile fish survive beyond their first two years, eventually maturing into spawning adults,” Childress said. “To date, the program has raised over 5,000 suckers from tiny larvae to two-year-old juveniles which were released back into the lake.”

Additionally, four quarter-acre rearing ponds were constructed last year which will double the rearing capacity from 8,000 to 16,000 fish. The team also designed floating acclimation net pens in Upper Klamath Lake to increase rearing capacity in a natural, protected environment, and implemented a radio-tag telemetry study to monitor survival of captive-reared suckers after release.

The Recovery Champion awards were presented by Deputy Regional Director Jody Holzworth at the sucker rearing facility in June.