KLAMATH FALLS, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley on Monday toured Gone Fishing sucker propagation project, which was expanded after recommended action that came out of the senator’s first-of-its-kind Sucker Recovery Summit. Following the science summit, Merkley, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, secured $3 million in funding for the expansion.
“In the face of extreme drought, suffocating wildfires, and other water resource challenges, stakeholders across the board came together to begin addressing one piece of the puzzle: endangered sucker survival,” Merkley said. “This private-public partnership shows the Basin’s determination to come together and tackle this challenge in the short and long term. I am committed to being a strong federal partner and continuing to work in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to secure resources for the Basin.”
“On behalf of the Klamath Tribes, I thank Senator Merkley for his continued interest in doing everything possible to recover the sucker,” said Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes who toured the net pens. “His vision for the Sucker Recovery Summit provided an opportunity to cooperatively identify and consider projects focused on addressing the complex problems threatening the very survival of the suckers. With the expansion of Gone Fishing, and with the funding Senator Merkley secured, we are hopeful that we will continue to make progress on helping increase the populations of the endangered C’waam and Koptu, so very important to our people.”
“We were grateful for the opportunity to show Senator Merkley first-hand the progress made in a relatively short time to rear suckers at both the Gone Fishing rearing facility and at the net pens on Upper Klamath Lake,” said Dan Blake, Field Supervisor with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Lost River and shortnose sucker populations are suffering a downward trajectory. However, we believe this trend can be reversed through the off-site rearing and habitat restoration work. The Service appreciates Senator Merkley’s continued interest and support for improving the status of endangered suckers in the Klamath Basin.”
“I would like to thank Senator Merkley for his consistent and ongoing commitment to the Suckerfish restoration effort,” said Ron Barnes, property owner with the Gone Fishing effort. “Along with his help in finding consistent funding, simply his presence—on the farm and last winter at the Sucker Summit—ensures that all the involved governmental agencies continue moving in the same direction! As the Senator has said, we have to move quickly on this project as the sucker population is rapidly approaching extinction. Our desire to move quickly is aided greatly by the Senator’s backing.”
“I was glad to see the Senator out at the project; it shows his commitment to the recovery of the sucker fish,” said Tracey Liskey, property owner with the Gone Fishing effort. “With his help getting the red tape to a shorter length, we should be able to keep the project on its projected time line and hopefully help the fish in Klamath Lake become healthy and abundant.”
Currently, juvenile suckers in the Klamath Basin are not surviving—creating crisis conditions for the Klamath Tribes, for whom suckers are essential tribal treaty resources, and for farmers and ranchers, whose irrigation supply is affected by the need for in-stream water for the fish, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
With separate efforts underway to address this issue, Merkley convened the Sucker Recovery Summit last November so that stakeholders could compare and combine information and develop solutions. He asked experts to come prepared to discuss short-term solutions that could be implemented in the next 1 to 3 years, to help suckers survive until long-term solutions take effect.
Among the short-term action items was to increase sucker propagation efforts, increasing the likelihood that more suckers will survive in nature. Gone Fishing is a public-private partnership, with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rearing thousands of suckers in pools on leased private land.
Merkley toured the original Gone Fishing site, where suckers are raised until they’re large enough to be tagged with a passive tracking device, and then put into larger pools, where they live until they’re 2 years old.
As part of the expansion following the Sucker Recovery Summit, the Gone Fishing project installed net pens about 8 miles into Upper Klamath Lake, where suckers live in the wild. Now, instead of releasing 2-year-old suckers into the lake, the suckers go to the net pens to become acclimated to the environment. Once they’re 3 years old, they’ll be released in different parts of the lake. Trackers enable the USFWS to monitor their health and survival.