Conservation of Suckers in North America
Catostomid fishes are a diverse family of 76+ freshwater species that are distributed across North America in many different habitats. This group of fish is facing a variety of impacts and conservation issues that are somewhat unique relative to more economically valuable and heavily managed fish species. Here, we present a brief series of case studies to highlight the threats such as migration barriers, flow regulation, environmental contamination, habitat degradation, exploitation and impacts from introduced (non-native) species that are facing catostomids in different regions. Collectively, the case studies reveal that individual species usually are not threatened by a single, isolated factor. Instead, species in general face numerous stressors that threaten multiple stages of their life history. Several factors have retarded sucker conservation including widespread inabilities of field workers to distinguish some species, lack of basic natural history and ecological knowledge of life history, and the misconception that suckers are tolerant of degraded conditions and are of little social or ecological value. Without a specific constituent group lobbying for conservation of non-game fishes, all such species, including members of the catostomid family, will continue to face serious risks because of neglect, ignorance, and misunderstanding. We suggest that conservation strategies should incorporate research and education/outreach components. Other conservation strategies that would be effective for protecting suckers include freshwater protected areas for critical habitat, restoration of degraded habitat, and design of catostomid-friendly fish bypass facilities. We believe that the plight of the catostomids is representative of the threats facing many other non-game freshwater fishes with diverse life-history strategies globally.