ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.-- Following an agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed decisions for protection of 757 imperiled species across the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Zuni bluehead sucker under the Endangered Species Act. The small fish is found only in the Little Colorado River watershed in Arizona and New Mexico. It was once common but has been lost from more than 90 percent of its range over the past 20 years.
“This is great news not only for this special arid-lands fish but for the health of the Little Colorado River,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center. “Protecting the Zuni bluehead sucker will help to protect the river’s headwaters from the water withdrawals that played a major role in pushing this fish to the brink of extinction, as well as guard against new threats such as development.”
The Center petitioned for federal protection for the fish in 2004. It was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1985. Suckers require clean, permanently flowing water and cannot reproduce in polluted water because silt covers and suffocates their eggs.
Sucker populations declined dramatically as the result of chemical treatments to remove green sunfish and fathead minnow to help introduce rainbow trout populations for sport fishing. Its habitat has been lost and degraded due to water withdrawal, logging, overgrazing, development and erosion. Global climate change, drought and increasing water demand from human population growth pose major threats to the sucker’s survival. The sucker is also threatened by predation from introduced fish and crayfish; surviving populations are small and isolated, increasing the risk of extinction.
Last year the Service proposed to protect 293 stream miles of “critical habitat” for the fish. That proposal is expected to be finalized later this year.
The sucker is 8 inches long with a torpedo-shaped body, bluish head, and silvery-tan to dark-green coloration with black mottling. It feeds by scraping algae off rocks and plants.
So far under the Center’s landmark 2011 settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, 121 species have gained Endangered Species Act protection, and another 22 have been proposed for protection.