CA governor OKs Lake Tahoe crawfish bill

Dylan Silver

Anglers looking to cash in on the wealth of crawfish on the California side of Lake Tahoe are one step closer to being able to legally drop their traps.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 165 last Friday, which repealed an existing law that banned the sale or purchase of crawfish taken from Lake Tahoe.

Similar to a Nevada law adopted last year, the California law also states that any commercial take of crawfish is for the primary purpose of reducing the population.

Before anglers can start trolling the California side of the lake, the Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations that govern the commercial take of crayfish must be re-written.

Fred Jackson, owner of Tahoe Lobster Company, the area’s most prominent commercial crayfish operation, expects the green light around the spring of 2014.

“There’s a time lag where they’re going to have to re-write all the regulations,” Jackson said. “It’s the same situation we had with Nevada.”

Scientists estimate there are more than 240 million signal crawfish in Lake Tahoe. University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Sudeep Chandra believes the species is contributing to algae blooms and declining clarity in the lake’s near-shore waters.

“With the millions and millions of crayfish in Lake Tahoe, a mechanism that increases the demand for anglers and harvesters to take them out is going to benefit the lake,” Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokeswoman Kristi Boosman said.

The California ban dates back to the late 1960s when a Swedish researcher was rumored to have sold nearly 100,000 Lake Tahoe crawfish to his country under the premise of research and re-population.

At that time, Sweden’s highly prized crawfish population had been decimated by a fungal outbreak. The Lake Tahoe breed was found to be immune to the fungus.

In 1970, assembly member Eugene Chappie introduced a bill that would ban the commercial sale of crawfish. Thought to benefit Lake Tahoe, the tiny lobster-like crustaceans were on their way to being protected.

“They’re especially valuable in the shallows of Lake Tahoe because they act as a clean-up crew,” famed limnologist Charles R. Goldman was quoted saying in a 1978 National Geographic article. “They’ll eat harmful algae, dead fish and debris.

“I’ve even seen them dining on a water-logged edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.”

Chappie’s bill passed and the sale of crawfish from the Lake Tahoe Basin was banned, until now.

Since, scientists have changed their view of the invasive species. They have been found to excrete nitrogen and phosphorous and provide invasive warm water fish like the small-mouth bass a food source.

Assembly member Beth Gaines, R-Rocklin, introduced AB 165 in May.

“There will be many benefits to allowing for commercial fishing of crayfish in the Lake Tahoe region,” Gaines said in a statement released at that time. “First, reducing the number of invasive crayfish will help the purity of the lake. Secondly, businesses can benefit by the sale of the crayfish, having a positive impact on the local economy while supporting local products.”

TRPA officials said there haven’t been any new applications for commercial crayfish permits since July.

Jackson said he expects a pretty significant boost in demand once the California regulations are finalized.

“There are a lot of restaurants over there that are more local-minded and like this kind of cuisine,” Jackson said.

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