Anglers expressed concern on Tuesday that a plan to introduce Lahontan cutthroat trout into Lake Tahoe might involve killing the fish already there.
Lahontan National Fish Hatchery Manager Lisa Heki of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlined the proposal at a meeting of the Douglas County Advisory Board to Manage Wildlife meeting in Minden.
The Lahontan cutthroat was native to Tahoe and Pyramid Lake, but disappeared in the 1930s. Once famous for their size, Heki said that successfully introducing the cutthroat to Tahoe would improve fishing recreation.
She talked about efforts to introduce the trout at Fallen Leaf Lake that are still underway.
Wildlife officials started introducing cutthroat into the smaller lake in 2002. Early on yellow tags put on the fish made them lures for the lake trout.
"In the early years the fish were all predated or caught by anglers," she said. "There was no carryover from the fish we stocked in '03 and '04."
Efforts to adjust the time of stocking and tracking the lake trout will make the difference.
South Lake angler Tim Enterline was skeptical of the cutthroat's ability to survive.
"These are the same fish," he said. "A fish is a fish. They're not strong enough to survive."
He said the largest cutthroat he's caught in Fallen Leaf Lake was 14 inches.
Heki said the most recent effort to introduce the cutthroat started in 2008 with the release of 14,000 eggs and 7,000 fry. The numbers increased in 2009 and 2010.
"It will be five years at least before this population is self-sustaining," she said.
Keeping the fish at the hatchery until they're older doesn't work because they become accustomed to captivity.
She responded to accusations officials were killing fish to make room for the cutthroats, saying the fish netted were part of a population study to determine the habits of the lake trout.
"That's how we find space for the Lahontan cutthroat trout in this system," she said.
She said they are finding where the lake trout are and introducing the cutthroats elsewhere, near where they can find refuge.
"A 15-pound mackinaw is as old as me," Enterline said of the fish he saw being taken from Fallen Leaf Lake.
Funding for introduction of the cutthroat to Tahoe is in Round 11 of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. It is one of several projects that are up for funding in the last round.
"We are seeing if we can find a niche for the Lahontan cutthroat trout," Heki said. "This is not a removal operation."
Heki said that they plan to study where fish live in Tahoe by hydroacoustic location, which she described as a fancy fish finder.
"There is no clear blueprint for this," Heki said. "We need to make sure recreational fishing is maintained at Tahoe."
Tahoe resident Drew Thompson said there's a big difference between introducing fish at Fallen Leaf Lake and putting them into Lake Tahoe.
"Tahoe provides no refuge for fish," he said. "Compared to Fallen Leaf Lake it's a desert."
Enterline said the cutthroat won't be able to compete with the mackinaw.
"A 10-pound mackinaw is a fish that's lived a long time, it's a strong fish. It's a survivor."
Heki cited Independence Lake south of Truckee where all sorts of fish live together, including the cutthroats.
She said that the process is just starting for Lake Tahoe and that it would be more transparent.
Enterline said he has been trying to obtain information about the issue and asked that a presentation be held at Lake Tahoe.