Friday is Endangered Species Day and a facility in Logan is doing its part to help restore a species only found in Utah. The only place in the world where the June sucker lives is in Utah Lake and in the Provo River. Gary Howes is the Hatchery Manager at the Fisheries Experiment Station in Logan and spent Thursday with a crew of 10 other employees with the Division of Wildlife Resources inserting PIT tags into 2,000 fish.
“PIT is an acronym for Passive Integrated Transponder,” Howes explained. “They are the same thing you’d put in a cat or dog. Each one has an individual number.”
The June sucker is considered a prey fish, one that gets eaten by other fish. It is dark on top but light on the bottom so it can hide and be camouflaged from predators. Because of water flow alterations, habitat changes, drought, competition with and being preyed on by exotic fish, the June sucker was listed as an endangered species by the federal government in 1986 when populations of the fish dropped below 1,000.
“Since then, we’ve raised approximately 850,000 fish out of this facility,” said Howes. “That doesn’t mean the population’s that big, because most of these fish get eaten, or a good number of them do, especially at the smaller size. The survival rates are fairly low. But these bigger-sized fish we are tagging their survival rate is in the 50-80% range.”
Besides tagging the fish, the crew also recorded each fish’s weight and length. Tracking devices are deployed in various locations around Utah Lake and in the Provo River so biologists can track the movement of the fish during different times of the year, as well as their growth over time.
The 2,000 fish were among approximately 27,000 grown and cared for at the hatchery in Logan. Those that were tagged on Thursday, May 16th were spawned in early June 2017.
“We are the only place in the world that has the brood for these, that can produce the eggs for these fish. Every fish that’s been produced since the early ’90s when this project started came out of here, aside from a few wild spawns on the Provo River from fish in the lake. All the captive-raised fish have come from this facility.”
The experiment station fine-tuned the diet and living conditions for the fish. The station uses climate controlled well water to accelerate or slow down the growth of the fish, depending on the temperature of the water. Howes said they generally like to release the fish into Utah Lake once they grow to be approximately 12″ in length.
“We keep the water temperature somewhere between 65-73 degrees, depending on our needs,” Howes continued. “It’s usually 71 or 72 degrees. Their growth is fairly consistent year round. When they hit the lake, because the water temperatures affect their growth so much, they grow a lot faster in the summer than they do in the winter. Biologists at the lake want to track their growth in the lake, how fast they grow, outside of a controlled environment like we have here.”
The experiment station keeps thousands of one-year-old and two-year-old fish in a variety of large tubs.
“The first Monday of June we will be outside spawning the same parents that these fish came from to produce the 2019 year class for the 2021 year stock.”
The fish are spawned from older fish at the station. Howes said his staff works to rotate which fish they use every year to ensure a genetic diversity. June suckers can grow to be anywhere between 24″-30″ long and can live up to 40 years. By comparison, a trout will live up to eight or nine years.
Besides the work being done in Logan, multiple agencies have gotten involved to restore the June sucker population, including the Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission, Central Utah Water Conservancy District, Provo River Water Users Association, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and outdoor and recreation groups. Work is being done to restore the Provo River delta as it enters Utah Lake and remove invasive species in the river and in the lake. That includes a commercial fisherman who is tasked with catching and removing carp from Utah Lake.