Researchers catch rare fish at Grand Canyon

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, AZ - An endangered fish characterized by a long, high sharp-edged hump behind its head had been considered extinct from Grand Canyon National Park until researchers sampling for it in the lower part of the canyon caught one last week out of the Colorado River.

The catch marked the first documentation of the razorback sucker in the Grand Canyon in more than 20 years.

"It's an event, for sure. It's something that people are interested in," U.S. Bureau of Reclamation biologist Mark McKinstry told the Arizona Daily Sun.

The researchers had been using electricity to stun fish for short periods of time and sampling what floated to the top. The razorback sucker was one of the biggest suckers in North America at 3 feet in length. It is one of six fish species that once existed only in the Colorado River basin.

McKinstry believes the fish that was caught traveled upstream some 50 miles from Lake Mead in Nevada.

The National Park Service now is taking another look at exactly what lives in the Grand Canyon. Some species have been impacted negatively by the creation of the Glen Canyon Dam in the early 1960s, the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council has said. The group estimated that a quarter of some 85 plants, insects, fish, birds and mammals are gone from the Grand Canyon.

The razorback sucker had been the most widespread and abundant of the big-river fish in the Colorado River basin. The construction of the dam led to a loss of habitat. The suckers don't reproduce easily in temperatures below 50 degrees and are eaten by exotic fish, such as bullhead, carp and channel catfish.

Martha Hahn, science director for Grand Canyon National Park, said the suckers might someday get assistance from humans or a ride upstream to help them flourish in the river basin.

"The big thing is understanding. Why now? What's different now, and how do we maintain it," she said.