INCLINE VILLAGE - A crawfish crook is on the prowl at Lake Tahoe.
Fred Jackson founded his new enterprise, Tahoe Lobster Co., earlier this year, acquired a permit and started harvesting the crawfish in July.
But since August, Jackson says 77 of his traps have disappeared, including 20 stolen in just the past week form the waters off Tahoe's east shore. He estimates losses totaling $8,000.
"It's just destroying us," Jackson told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Friday. "It's huge."
Wardens with the Nevada Department of Wildlife are aware of the thefts but, as they have no suspects. Jackson also filed a report Friday with the Carson City sheriff's office, which has jurisdiction in the area they occurred.
"We have no leads and we don't have suspects," Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy said. "If anybody has any leads we would like to hear about them."
The crawfish, also called crawdads, are not native to the lake but an estimated 280 million of them are now thriving in the lake's waters. Crawfish and their excrement are believed to be tied to worsening algae growth in Tahoe's shallow waters.
Tahoe Lobster Co.'s "clarity by cuisine" approach is designed to sell crawfish not only as a tasty treat but also as a means to protect Lake Tahoe's famed clarity. Scientists at University of Nevada, Reno are monitoring Tahoe Lobster Co.'s activities to determine if removing them can make a difference in water clarity in localized areas.
The market for the crawfish has been increasing, Jackson said, and they are now being sold in locations including Harrah's Tahoe in Stateline, the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe in Incline Village and the Eldorado Hotel Casino, Grand Sierra Resort and the Old Granite Street Eatery in Reno, Jackson said.
When the traps first started disappearing in August, Jackson and colleagues were concerned but were able to absorb the loss. The issue is of much more significance now as crawfish migrate into deeper waters for the winter and catching them becomes more difficult, Jackson said.
"Going into winter, we need everything we can get," he said. The latest theft of traps laid on Monday was discovered Thursday.
Jackson said he has no idea who is responsible for the thefts nor how they are locating his submerged trap lines. It could be his vessel is being watched when the traps are being laid and that "obviously, somebody knows our routine."
He has yet to hear of anyone else selling Tahoe crawfish that may have been taken from his traps, Jackson said.
Others are planning to begin crawfish harvesting at Tahoe and Jackson said he doesn't mind honest competition.
"Just don't take our stuff," he said. "This is our livelihood."