Distribution and condition of larval and juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers in the Williamson River Delta restoration project and Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon

Open-File Report 2012-1027




Federally endangered Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris) were once abundant throughout their range but populations have declined. They were extirpated from several lakes in the 1920s and may no longer reproduce in other lakes. Poor recruitment to the adult spawning populations is one of several reasons cited for the decline and lack of recovery of these species and may be the consequence of high mortality during juvenile life stages. High larval and juvenile sucker mortality may be exacerbated by an insufficient quantity of suitable or high-quality rearing habitat. In addition, larval suckers may be swept downstream from suitable rearing areas in Upper Klamath Lake into Keno Reservoir, where they are assumed lost to Upper Klamath Lake populations. The Nature Conservancy flooded about 3,600 acres (1,456 hectares) to the north of the Williamson River mouth (Tulana) in October 2007, and about 1,400 acres (567 hectares) to the south and east of the Williamson River mouth (Goose Bay Farms) in October 2008, in order to retain larval suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, create nursery habitat, and improve water quality. The U.S. Geological Survey joined a long-term research and monitoring program in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Reclamation, and Oregon State University in 2008 to assess the effects of the Williamson River Delta restoration on the early life-history stages of Lost River and shortnose suckers. The primary objectives of the research were to describe habitat colonization and use by larval and juvenile suckers and non-sucker fishes and to evaluate the effects of the restored habitat on the health and condition of juvenile suckers. This report summarizes data collected in 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey as a part of this monitoring effort and follows two annual reports on data collected in 2008 and 2009. Restoration modifications made to the Williamson River Delta appeared to provide additional suitable rearing habitat for endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers from 2008 to 2010 based on sucker catches. Mean larval sample density was greater for both species in the Williamson River Delta than adjacent lake habitats in all 3 years. In addition to larval suckers, at least three age classes of juvenile suckers were captured in the delta. The shallow Goose Bay Farms and Tulana Emergent were among the most used habitats by age-0 suckers in 2009. Both of these environments became inaccessible due to low water in 2010, however, and were not sampled after July 19, 2010. In contrast, age-1 sucker catches shifted from the shallow water (about 0.5-1.5 m deep) on the eastern side of the Williamson River Delta in May, to deeper water environments (greater than 2 m) by the end of June or early July in all 3 years. Differential distribution among sucker species within the Williamson River Delta and between the delta and adjacent lakes indicated that shortnose suckers likely benefited more from the restored Williamson River Delta than Lost River or Klamath largescale suckers (Catostomus snyderi). Catch rates in shallow-water habitats within the delta were higher for shortnose and Klamath largescale sucker larvae than for larval Lost River suckers in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Shortnose suckers also comprised the greatest portion of age-0 suckers captured in the Williamson River Delta in all 3 years of the study. The relative abundance of age-1 shortnose suckers was high in our catches compared to age-1 Lost River suckers in 2009 and 2010. The restored delta also created habitat for several piscivorous fishes, but only two appeared to pose a meaningful threat of predation to suckers - fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) and yellow perch (Perca flavescens). Fathead minnows that prey on larval but not juvenile suckers dominated catches in all sampling areas. Yellow perch also were abundant throughout the study area, but based on their gape size and co-occurrence with suckers, most were only capable of preying on larvae. Low May lake-surface elevation, below average snow pack, and anticipated irrigation demands indicated late summer water levels in Upper Klamath Lake would be unusually low in 2010. In response to concerns by the Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy that low-water conditions might strand fish on the delta, low water seine surveys were implemented. Eleven fishes, including both endangered suckers, were captured in seine surveys, including both species of suckers, which continued to use shallow water less than 0.4 m deep through September 21. Lake elevation declined to 1,261.54 m (4,138.9 feet) in mid-September 2010, but did not appear to strand fish or cause large-scale fish mortality.

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Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Distribution and condition of larval and juvenile Lost River and shortnose suckers in the Williamson River Delta restoration project and Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Western Fisheries Research Center
vi, 38 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
Upper Klamath Lake;Williamson River Delta;Agency Lake;Williamson River;Sprague River;Keno Reservoir
Online Only (Y/N):