GARDNERVILLE - Another 61,000 cutthroat trout were destroyed Saturday after officials at the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery discovered a new outbreak of a fish-killing disease called furunculosis.
"It's definitely not good news," said Larry Marchant, manager of the fish hatchery south of Gardnerville. "We were so close to to getting them all out all right."
Approximately six weeks ago, the hatchery destroyed more than 300,000 fingerling cutthroat trout in an attempt to wipe out the disease, which is transmitted by birds. Attempts to treat the fish with antibiotics have been unsuccessful.
Furunculosis is caused by a bacteria that occurs naturally in the water. One reason the antibiotics failed at Lahontan is because the fishery reuses water. The disease, while fatal to fish, isn't considered a health hazard to humans.
"We had another outbreak in some of the fish that we were holding back," Marchant said Friday. "We thought we had it licked the first time. To see more start to die was really disheartening."
Marchant said the facility will again be disinfected and the hatchery is looking at digging additional wells at a cost of $750,000 per well. The hatchery was disinfected after the first outbreak and is sterilized every year.
"We'll start all over again," he said. "It's really demoralizing. We spent so much time and energy on these fish. We were so close to being ready. It's a shame that it didn't happen."
The effect this year is that the Lahontan hatchery won't send any cutthroat to Pyramid Lake, but Marchant said the Paiute Tribe would be able to provide plenty of stock. The hatchery raises 650,000 cutthroat trout each year to be released primarily in Pyramid and Walker lakes. The hatchery successfully stocked Walker Lake.
Unaffected by the disease is brood stock of Pilot Peak cutthroat and rainbow trout.
"It's pretty tough to put a dollar figure on it," Marchant said. "Euthanizing the fish is not all that expensive, but the cost overall to the program of losing that many fish and the loss of the resource is thousands upon thousands of dollars."
Additional precautions at the hatchery include putting up more netting and changing the way the fish are fed in the raceways to keep the birds out. The hatchery also will test the fingerlings in "live boxes," which are small cages of fish placed in several locations of the fish hatchery. In the coming weeks, the fish will be tested for the bacteria.
Marchant said the public has been sympathetic to the plight of the trout.
"People, of course, don't like to see the loss of the fish or the resource. They have been very sympathetic to what we've been going through. The good thing is that things turn around fairly fast. We'll be collecting eggs in April from Pyramid and that starts a whole new cycle."
Marchant said the rainbow trout for the popular annual Carson Valley Kids Fishing Derby are not affected. In fact, he said, that's one reason the hatchery was quick to remove the diseased fish.
"We didn't want to contaminate the Pilot Peak brood fish or the rainbow trout," he said. Marchant estimated there are 4,500 rainbows at the hatchery and 175 adult Pilot Peak cutthroat.