LOGAN – The success of the Utah’s June sucker recovery effort in Utah Lake was due in a large part to Logan’s Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Fisheries Experiment Station. The Utah June sucker is a native fish in Utah and is only naturally found in the Provo River and Utah Lake and was nearly extinct.
Gary Howe, the hatchery manger at the Logan facility, said every one of the stocked fish came from their hatchery.
“We’ve raised June suckers since ‘91 and every fish stocked in Utah Lake came through this place,” he said. “The bulk of the fish we have we spawned, hatched their eggs, tagged them, raised and released them.”
The brood stock came out of the Provo River and some are 30 years old. The Logan hatchery is a big part that success of the resurrection of species that fed early pioneers and Native Americans. Carp removal from the lake and improving the habitat had a major impact on getting the sucker off the Endangered Species List.
The Hatchery has just under 930 brood stock left.
“The effort has been so successful they change from Endangered to Threatened Species List,” he said. “They will still stay on the protected species list for a while longer.”
The Logan facility manager said there are several levels on the endangered species list.
Sarah Seegert, the native aquatics program coordinator for DWR, said the Logan hatchery first got the eggs from the Provo River in about 1986. Shortly after the spring of that year they brought eggs to the hatchery to start building a brood stock.
“Now, it is the source to augment the population in Utah Lake,” she said. “In 2005 and 2006 we constructed an aquaculture environment in Logan with temperature-controlled water that is recirculated.”
The hatchery holds adult fish that they have spawned every year and put the offspring back into Utah Lake.
Early on they had a goal to plant 70,000-80,000 fish 8 inches-long back into the lake. In 2017, DWR decided to hold them longer and let them grow longer to increase the chances of survival.
“There are hungry mouths in Utah Lake, predatory fish that took their toll on the transplanted fish,” Seegert said. “Now we are raising fish up to 10 to 12-inches long and about two years old. That means fewer fish. About 22,000 fish are introduced into the Utah Lake every year.”
She said the Logan hatchery is instrumental in the recovery of June sucker.
“When the fish was first put on the list there were less than 400 fish left in Utah Lake,” Seegert said. “We have increased the numbers of June suckers and improved the habitat in the lake which is only helpful if you have fish to make it successful.”
The Logan hatchery has been the lifeline for this program, she said.
Carp were introduced to Utah around 1880 and have really taken off.
“They are invaders in Utah Lake; they have a negative impact on the habitat,” she said. “The small suckers need vegetation to survive and carp tear up the bottom and make the lake more murky.”
Due to the work DWR has done they have seen a response in the vegetation.
“We have seen the submerged plants come back and the fish are now big enough to survive.”
June suckers are not game fish, they serve a unique purpose. They are a unique cultural heritage and Utah Lake and the Provo River are the only places the June sucker lives.
“We do have populations in Red Butte,” Seegert said. “The sucker species were important food sources for early pioneers and Native Americans, and they serve as an important part of the food chain.”
The June sucker is different from other suckers. They are not bottom feeders; they can serve an important role in the food web because they can turn the food for other fish.
The return of the sucker has done a lot for Utah Lake and is making the water in the lower Provo River better, helping the other fish in the system.
“Utah Lake has a bad rap as a dirty lake. The recovery of the lake because of June sucker will help clean it up,” Seegert said. “They are fun to catch on a fly, but it is prohibited to keep them.”