Among the more popular and well-known fish of Ohio’s streams and rivers, there is one fish which lurks on the bottom, often regarded as “trash-fish” or even seen as invasive: suckerfish.
Suckerfish are a group of fish from the family Catostomidae which are native to the Ohio River watershed and live as bottom feeders, eating insects, mollusks, worms, and other aquatic invertebrates. They are migratory fish, moving upstream from large rivers and lakes into smaller streams to reproduce in the spring. During this time, they often form very large groups and can be seen traversing small creeks in late April and early May. There are many species of suckerfish native to Ohio such as the white sucker, quillback carp-sucker, and several species of redhorse; many of these species can reach sizes upwards of 10lbs.
Most sucker species are very intolerant of pollution and sedimentation and as such are good indicator species for river and stream quality. Because of their sensitivity to water degradation, they have declined or even been extirpated from watersheds across the country. The longnose sucker is listed as endangered in Ohio, and the river redhorse and quillback carp-sucker are threatened in parts of their range. Despite this, many individuals see them as invasive and detrimental to the waterways. This is likely due to their resemblance of non-native carp species, such as the bighead carp and grass carp, which are considered invasive in Ohio. Because of this negative perception, many native suckers are killed by fishermen aiming to improve stream health by removing destructive species.
Although they are shunned by most of the fishing community, some fishermen are beginning to embrace the sucker and other “rough-fish” by fishing for them. A popular fishing method for suckers is to use a small hook baited with a live worm resting on the bottom of the stream and waiting for the school to pass overhead (Unionsportsmen.org).
Despite their reputation, suckers are a beneficial native fish and even help fight invasive species in some parts of their range. In Lake Erie, sucker species such as the bigmouth buffalo and redhorse are some of the only species to prey on the highly invasive zebra mussel, which clog pipes and push out native species (biokids.umich.edu). The river redhorse in Missouri is also noted to readily prey upon the Asiatic clam, which outcompetes native bivalves in the region (mdc.gov). Suckers are also very important prey species in their ecosystems, providing food for species such as largemouth bass, northern pike, herons, and bald eagles.
North American suckerfish are often misunderstood and sometimes vilified for their resemblance to some less-desirable fish species. Despite this negative reputation, they are very beneficial and add to the biodiversity of our pristine rivers and streams in Ohio.
For more information regarding aquatic wildlife, Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District programs, and/or technical assistance with water or soil questions, call 513-695-1337.
Written By Harrison Shupe, Warren Co SWCD Intern
Warren County SWCD Staff Blog
A blog to keep you informed on all the latest news at Warren County SWCD and in the conservation world.