Fish plants in Lake Tahoe greatly altered

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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It was reported here that the native minnow population in Lake Tahoe has seriously declined.

Some may say, “So what?” But it means with a declining food source, the populations of a number of fish species that depend on minnows for breakfast, lunch and dinner could be in jeopardy as well.

The Department of Fish and Game had great intentions. It recognized the public’s want to put fish on the table. To do that, anglers wouldn’t stay at it if they continually cast their lines and only had to rely on a natural, native population of trout.

DFG-operated fish hatcheries really came into their own in the 1950s. The hatcheries have grown tremendously and lakes, reservoirs and streams throughout the state are regularly planted with trout to give anglers a chance to have the thrill of catching fresh fish.

The American River was heavily planted with trout in the 1950s, DFG trucks only having to make a short run from the Nimbus hatchery to various points along the river. It later was determined these hatchery-born and raised fish posed a danger to natural salmon and steelhead populations, and the practice of placing hatchery fish in the river was halted.

There have been a number of lawsuits against the DFG, citing the planting of trout directly and adversely affected natural, native trout populations. Hatchery trout would mate with and contaminate the native trout population.

So, the DFG halted all trout plants a couple of years ago until studies could be completed and an agreement was made with the suing parties. Eventually, trout plants resumed.

Lake Tahoe was planted with rainbow trout and even kokanee salmon. The native fish population, lake trout or mackinaw, thrived; Lahontan cutthroat trout eventually disappeared.

And now, rainbow trout plants have ended, and in their place, 22,000 Lahontan cutthroats will be planted over the next several months. The hope is eventually the rainbows will disappear and their populations replaced by the native species, the cutthroats.

Two current primary trophy trout fisheries are mackinaw and rainbows. Big mackinaw and rainbows are taken each year. Eventually, big cutthroats should be caught as well.

To pull off the reintroduction of the native cutthroats, the Nevada and California fish and game departments are working together to ensure a successful program.

Contact George deVilbiss at