As many as seven commercial crawfish harvesting operations could be up and running at Lake Tahoe in 2013.
The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency approved permits for four crawfish harvesting start-ups at a Thursday hearing in Stateline.
Two more people have requested information on taking part in the ongoing pilot project, said Patrick Stone, TRPA senior fisheries and wildlife biologist.
Don Henrichsen, Viet Vo, Tahoe Blue Crayfish Co. and High Sierra Ventures each received approval from the agency to begin commercially catching the crustaceans.
The future crawfishermen each need approvals from the Nevada Department of Wildlife and Nevada Division of State Land to proceed, Stone said.
Specifics of each harvester's plans, such as the type of traps used, the general location of the traps and the number of traps per string, will also be reviewed by the TRPA.
Crawfish harvesters are prohibited from setting traps within 1,000 feet of drinking water intakes and boat-launching facilities, as well as within 50 feet of all lake structures, to prevent interfering with the operation of the facilities and intakes. Commercial harvesters are also required to sell their catch to food wholesalers and retailers, meaning they can't sell them "off the dock," Stone said. Crawfish harvesting is currently restricted to the Nevada side of the lake.
Tahoe Lobster Co. began harvesting crawfish this summer in an effort to reduce the population of the invasive species, which numbers in the tens of millions, impacts native fisheries and adds to the lake's clarity issues by fueling algae growth.
The company has brought in about 45,000 crawfish - 4,500 pounds worth - in the months since it began operating, but has yet to make a dent in the population, Stone said.
"We have evidence that we can use this method to effectively remove crayfish from the lake bottom," Stone said Thursday. Exactly how effective the commercial harvesting effort is at reducing the number of crawfish in Lake Tahoe requires additional data, according to the biologist.