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Lake Tahoe stocked with formerly supreme 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 said . “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.”

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.

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