The Umpqua chub (Oregonichthys kalawatseti) is a small minnow found only in the waterways of the Umpqua River Basin. For nearly a century the fish was thought to be locally extinct from the North Umpqua River. Over the past 30 years, repeated surveys of the creeks and rivers within the entire Umpqua River basin revealed that the species is declining in abundance and distribution. This is believed to be a result of predation by invasive smallmouth bass. The results of these past surveys prompted the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to declare Umpqua chub a “sensitive critical species” and the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service to list it as a “special status species.”
Then, nearly 100 years since it was last seen, the Umpqua chub made a surprise reappearance. In 2019, Pacific Northwest Research Station research fisheries biologist Brooke Penaluna and her colleague Loretta Ellenburg re-surveyed the entire basin for the fish to assess its current distribution. They set baited minnow traps in many of the same locations sampled previously. On one day alone—May 14—they captured 34 Umpqua chub. What’s more, these captures document a range extension of the species into the North Umpqua River.
Penaluna is currently working to understand why the species has only recently been redetected after nearly a century: Were the fish always there and just eluding capture? Do they travel seasonally throughout the basin? Are they moving in response to pressure from invasive fish, like the smallmouth bass?
The researchers' rediscovery of the Umpqua chub will help inform conservation plans for the species, which is an important component of the basin’s food web.