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In Touch with Nature
Professor emeritus helps move imperiled sucker fish
By Sabrina Roberts

Using a seine net, Jonathan Baskin searches for threatened sucker fish in the Rialto Drain with recent zoology graduate Greg Brittain. Using a seine net, Jonathan Baskin (right) searches for threatened sucker fish in the Rialto Drain with recent zoology graduate Greg Brittain.

Professor Emeritus Jonathan Baskin walks through the shallow waters north of Pasadena as he carries an electrofisher, a mechanical device he uses to transmit a weak current into the creek to zap nearby aquatic creatures momentarily unconscious.

Before the animals awaken, he scoops up as many Santa Ana sucker fish as he can. While this may seem like an unorthodox way to catch fish, it has helped ensure the survival of the species.

Baskin, along with Cal Poly Pomona students and alumni, rescued 130 of the small, olive-gray fish from the Big Tujunga Creek in October, just before a storm moved in, because they could have been imperiled if the area were struck by mudslides. The fish were taken to a refugium in Riverside County, where they will stay for a year until conservationists can ensure their safety in the wild.

The Santa Ana sucker fish is one of only three native fish in the Los Angeles Basin, and its future is threatened because seasonal rains can trigger floods and mudslides that make the environment uninhabitable. Last August, the Station Fire burned much of the vegetation surrounding the creek, greatly increasing the danger.

Due to a series of winter storms and the charred landscape above, the creek remains at risk, which made Baskin’s actions all the more prudent.

“This species is important because it is one of a very few remaining native freshwater fishes we have here in Southern California,” Baskin says. “It forms an important link in this very fragile ecosystem of our local streams, which are so heavily impacted by human development.”

There are also plans to reintroduce the sucker fish to the San Bernardino Mountains, Baskin says, because they could thrive in this secluded environment, and it is a part of their natural range.

“I enjoy this work because it is an opportunity to make a concrete difference that can benefit our local ecosystems and species,” Baskin says.

Preserving the Santa Ana sucker fish population is an extension of Baskin’s commitment to teaching about nature as well as protecting it.

Baskin has taught in the university’s biological sciences department since 1971. Although he has retired from full-time teaching, he continues to work with students and alumni. This spring, several students will join in his research into South American catfishes, providing them with valuable opportunities to apply classroom concepts to real-world situations.