RENO — State wildlife officials say they expect to be able to stock more than 1.2 million trout in Nevada streams and lakes over the next year despite the closure of a fish hatchery because of an invasion of mussels at Lake Mead.
But they also say stocking of trout at Lake Mead will come to an end this fall and not resume there for at least two years.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife closed its Lake Mead hatchery in 2007 after the discovery of the invasive quagga mussels in the lake, where their numbers now total in the trillions.
Since then, the agency has increased production at the state’s Mason Valley hatchery in Yerington and signed an agreement to obtain fish from a federal hatchery in neighboring Arizona.
Department spokesman Doug Nielsen said the deal with Arizona expires this year, and the department will stop stalking Lake Mead with trout starting in the fall. Quagga mussels have become a “very significant factor” in fish-stocking operations statewide as officials seek to halt spread of the invading mollusks to other water bodies, he said.
“That’s the key factor in the whole thing. We have to be able to guarantee we’re not moving mussels somewhere else,” Nielsen told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Officials hope to reopen the Lake Mead hatchery as a mussel-safe facility, possibly allowing trout stocking there again. But Nielsen says the project will cost an estimated $5 million and will not occur until after 2013 at the earliest.
In the meantime, increased reliance on the 20-year-old Mason Valley hatchery — now at maximum production capacity — is taking its toll on both equipment and personnel, officials said.
“It’s been a real strain on Mason Valley,” said Chris Healy, Wildlife Department spokesman in Reno.
Despite recent challenges, fish stocking in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs in Northern Nevada will continue as in years past, Healy said.
Last year, 88,600 Lahontan cutthroat and sterilized rainbow trout were released in the Truckee River in a program designed to support reintroduction of the threatened native cutthroats.
Stocking of Nevada waters, which Healy said started in western Nevada in the 1870s with the planting of carp as a food source, will continue with efforts to prevent spread of quagga or their cousin, zebra mussels. The Wildlife Department spends about $3 million per year on its fish hatchery program.
Much concern has focused on Lake Tahoe, where studies by scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno suggest adult mussels could thrive. Should mussels become established, it could cost Tahoe’s tourism-dependent economy up to $22 million per year, according to a recent estimate by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The threat prompted a boat inspection program at Tahoe to prevent introduction of quagga or zebra mussels, an effort expected to expand this summer to other Truckee River reservoirs, including Boca and Stampede.
The 1.2 million trout to be stocked in Nevada in 2011-2012 include rainbow and brown trout, 114,800; Lahontan cutthroat trout, 77,000; bowcutts, 64,800; and tiger trout, 13,000.