Tahoe being stocked with only native trout species
RENO – For the first time since the 1970s, Lake Tahoe is being stocked with a threatened native fish that once ruled its clear, blue waters.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife will stock the Sierra lake straddling the California-Nevada border with 22,000 Lahontan cutthroat trout over the next several months.
Among other reasons, the species died out at Tahoe in the 1930s because of commercial fishing, the introduction of non-native fish species, logging and mining, according to biologists.
“The stocking we do is for recreational fishing only,” said Kim Tisdale, a fisheries biologist for NDOW. “We don’t think this will bring them back to Tahoe permanently.”
But a team of state and federal officials from California and Nevada plans to begin implementing a long-term recovery plan for the species at Tahoe in another year or two.
Lisa Heki, a hatchery manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno, said the team hopes to produce a self-sustaining population of Lahontan cutthroats at Tahoe after a study of the lake’s ecosystem is conducted this summer.
The study will help researchers determine where and when to stock the fish so they have the best chance to survive. Lahontan cutthroats are prey for non-native fish at Tahoe such as mackinaw and brown trout, and need areas where they can find cover and forage. The study also will help determine how many of the cutthroats could be planted at Tahoe.
“The long-term goal is to have a niche for a self-sustaining population of Lahontan cutthroats at Tahoe,” Heki told The Associated Press. “I think the goal is feasible. They’re very resilient and adaptive. Given a chance to find a niche they do quite well.”
Andy Burk, owner of the West River Fly Shop in Truckee, Calif., said Lahontan cutthroats used to be the top sport fish at Tahoe and are its only native trout species. They also once were the lake’s biggest fish and top-line predator, commonly weighing 20 to 30 pounds.
“We shipped thousands and thousands of pounds of them to restaurants in the San Francisco area,” he said. “Seeing them back in Tahoe is a cool thing. Any attempt to bring back what we once had is pretty well received as long as it’s not at the expense of other (fish) species.”
Kevin Thomas, environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game in Rancho Cordova, Calif., said the Nevada wildlife agency’s stocking is the first for the species at Tahoe since his agency planted Lahontan cutthroat fingerlings there in 1979.
“They didn’t survive,” he said. “There’s a difference between creating a fishery and recovering a species. It (Nevada’s stocking) is a great step forward for creating a native trout fishery in Lake Tahoe.”
Tisdale said the Lahontan cutthroats being planted this year are about 10 inches long and should be completely caught by anglers by late this year. Her agency planted nearly 6,000 of them Friday at Cave Rock on Tahoe’s east shore. The last time the agency stocked Tahoe with the fish was more than 35 years ago, she said.
“It will be interesting to see how the cutthroat fare in Lake Tahoe and how anglers respond to them as it’s been decades since we have stocked this native fish,” Tisdale said.
The stocking of Lahontan cutthroats at Fallen Leaf Lake on Tahoe’s south shore over the last decade has proven successful, Heki said. While there’s not a self-sustaining population in the smaller lake yet, there has been a documented carry-over of the fish to following years, she said.
“The hurdle is to get a naturally reproducing population there,” Heki said. “Fallen Leaf Lake has really been an interesting pathway to understand how we might introduce cutthroat into Tahoe. We’re really just starting to understand fish populations and how they use the habitat.”