It is my first week at the US Fish and Wildlife offices in Klamath Falls, Oregon and I hit the ground running to catch up with the progress of Casey, the other intern who began two weeks before me. Our project for the next six months is to begin rebuilding shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) populations, affectionately called “suckers”. Klamath Falls is an area with an impressive history of water management. Most of the land has been modified by levees and dams to create extensive farmland where there were once miles of lake. It’s a situation that has been great for people but bad for suckers, whose populations have declined to endangered levels as a result of limited access to spawning grounds, poor water quality, and entrapment in water control structures.
We will be attempting to rebuild the populations by growing juveniles in several nets on two lakes, and in man-made reservoirs on a wetland habitat. These semi-controlled environments will hopefully give the fish a higher chance of survival by providing protection from predators and aeration to improve water quality. Although other fish populations have been successfully raised in suspended cages or reservoirs, no one has yet applied these methods to suckers.
In my (short) experience with scientific research, I have found that on your first try nothing ever goes as planned. This first week has been no exception. For example, we currently have no fish. None at all. In the two weeks before I arrived, all attempts to catch spawning suckers had been unsuccessful, including suspending a 150ft seine net across the length of the river. On my first day, I was told that we may snorkel three miles of the 9°C river as a last attempt to find the suckers. As an avid SCUBA diver and lifelong swimmer, this didn’t sound too terrible although, it was certainly intimidating. Luckily (or not so luckily, depending on your perspective) my day was instead spent studying the shortnose sucker recovery plan, watching two hours of training videos, and attending my first office meeting before finally driving out to see the reservoirs where we will hopefully be rearing some of our fish.
The reservoir ready to be filled with water and suckers
I returned to work Tuesday with the overhanging possibility of a snorkeling adventure. Instead, Casey, Josh and I took the boat on its first post-winter test run. Upper Klamath Lake is gorgeous and I am so excited to spend the next six months working on it. The lake is sprawling and surrounded by snow capped mountains on most sides, including the steep volcano that hides Crater Lake in its peak. Our nets will be located on the fringe of the Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, a large, protected wetland habitat made up of tall reeds and home to myriad bird species. When you research Klamath Falls, most of the websites that come up are related to its famous birding. I’m not much of a bird watcher but I may have to pick it up while living here.
Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge with Mount McLoughlin
The boat started perfectly from its winter hiatus without any major problems but after that, the difficulties began. We had brought with us one segment of our unassembled dock. We planned to suspend our fish pens from the dock and intended to moor them in place with three meter steel poles in about two meters of water. At first, the poles sunk satisfyingly into the muddy lake bottom, securing the dock in place and I was sure that the sunny, calm day was going to be problem-free. That is, until the poles continued to sink through the holes in the dock and straight into the miles-deep silt layer as if it were quicksand. We were able to retrieve them but it was clear that a new plan was in order.
Our retrieved dock and poles in the boat
The rest of this week has been spent reassessing our original mooring plan (to include mushroom anchors designed for muddy bottoms) and fine-tuning all other aspects of the dock setup. This has mostly involved a large amount of computer research and visits to all the hardware stores in town to create a comparative quote list for the materials we will need to connect anchors, nets, signs, lights, etc. to our docks. In addition to hardware store visits, we trucked the giant metal box that will contain our aerator and small generator to all the wielders in the area, in a weird sort of wielder show and tell. Apparently no one can give you a quote for the price of drilling a hole and attaching a weather resistant air vent to your giant steel box until they have seen your giant steel box.
As a break from all this research, as well as hours of additional paperwork and federal forms, we also took a short excursion to a common spawning location on Wednesday. Naturally, there weren’t any fish there either and the search continues.
Do you have any shortnose suckers?
I do not.