Recovery teams labor to save suckers in Utah waters

Posted at 6:08 PM, May 30, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-30 20:09:39-04

PROVO, Utah -- For decades, recovery teams have been working to get June Suckers off of the endangered species list. And this year they’re seeing more of the fish in the Provo River than they have since the 1970s.

Mike Mills is the director of the June Sucker Recovery Program, and he spoke about their progress.

“It’s a big difference from the past," he said. "Ten years ago when we would be out here this time of year, we would be lucky to see a handful of fish."

Mills has been working to save the June Suckers for 10 years, and he said because of the different projects they’ve implemented, the population of the endangered fish is at its highest in decades.

“It’s a sign to us that the things we have been doing out in the lake to help the species have been effective, and we’re starting to see a difference and June Suckers are starting to rebound a little bit,” Mills said.

More than $2 million is spent annually to help the fish and their habitat. Recovery programs have worked to remove the endangered fish’s predators from Utah Lake; they’ve added more water into the Provo river, and proposed a delta restoration project. And although numbers are rising, the June Sucker population is still at risk.

“When I tell people we have tens of thousands of them the first question is always, 'Why are they still endangered?' and even though we have all these fish here spawning and they’ll produce millions and millions of larva fish, probably next to none of those larva fish will survive to become adults,” Mills said.

And that’s because as the larva June Suckers make their way down the Provo River to Utah Lake they get stuck in this mile and a half of still water.

“Many of the fish don’t even make it to Utah Lake anymore, they either get stuck in that stretch, starve or get eaten by predators,” Mills said.

Researchers will continue to track the fish as it makes its way to recovery. And Mills hopes to one day see June Suckers off the endangered species list.