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Feds Propose Protection for Zuni Bluehead Sucker

January 24, 2013
Mark Salvo 503-757-4221
In This Release
Rivers   Zuni bluehead sucker
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to list the Zuni bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus yarrowi) as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to designate approximately 293 stream miles as critical habitat for the species. The fish is one of 252 candidate species the agency agreed to address for listing in a comprehensive settlement agreement with WildEarth Guardians in 2011.

“We are relieved that the Zuni bluehead sucker will finally receive the protection it needs to survive and recover,” said Mark Salvo, Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.

The Zuni bluehead sucker is a small, slender fish with a bluish head, silvery tan to dark green back, and yellowish to silvery white sides and abdomen. The fish grows between 3.5 to 8 inches. Males exhibit a bright red band running laterally along each side during the spawning season. The fish uses stream reaches with clean, perennial water flowing over hard substrate, such as bedrock. It feeds primarily on algae it scrapes from rocks, rubble, and gravel on the streambed. It appears to avoid silt-laden habitat, such as beaver ponds, which represent poor or marginal habitat.

Also known as the Zuni mountain sucker, the Zuni bluehead sucker was once common in the Little Colorado and Zuni River drainages. Scientists postulate that this subspecies may be a prehistoric hybrid of the Rio Grande sucker (Catostomus plebeius) and bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus). The fish has been extirpated from 90 percent of its current range is now restricted to three isolated populations in the upper Rio Nutria drainage in west-central New Mexico, and along Kinlichee (a.k.a. “Kin Li Chee”) Creek and in the Canyon de Chelly area in Arizona.

The Service identified a host of threats to the sucker, including habitat modification and stream siltation caused by logging, livestock grazing, road construction, residential development and reservoirs; reduced or discontinuous stream flow from water withdrawal for irrigation; competition with and predation by exotic fishes and crayfish; and inadequate regulatory mechanisms to protect the species.

The agency has proposed to designate nearly 293 miles in the Zuni River (113 miles), Kinlichee Creek (60 miles) and San Juan River (Canyon de Chelly) (119 miles) watersheds to support recovery of the sucker.