Letter to the editor- Trout destined to die quickly | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Letter to the editor- Trout destined to die quickly

To the editor:

As mentioned in an article by Caryn Haller on Sept. 4, the Lahontan Fish Hatchery has been successful in the development of a brood stock of the pilot peak strain of Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT). About half of this stock of LCT are planned to be released into Fallen Leaf Lake in an effort to reintroduce the fish that are now extinct in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

As a participant of the Tahoe Baikal Institute this summer, I lived at the Forest Service cabin on Fallen Leaf Lake for five weeks. Throughout the duration of my studies at Fallen Leaf Lake, I was able to do research and literature analysis regarding the lake’s ecosystem. I also learned in great detail about the niche (position in the food web and ecosystem) of the LCT. The knowledge I acquired has enabled me to hypothesize the realistic success of the LCT in the current ecosystem of Fallen Leaf Lake.

In Fallen Leaf Lake before the late 1800s, the LCT was the only trout and the top predator. In the 1870s, other game fish such as rainbow trout and lake trout were introduced into Fallen Leaf Lake to increase stock for fishing. The introduction of these trout as well as the destruction of spawning grounds by logging in the early 1900s, lead to the extinction of the LCT in the Tahoe Basin by the late 1930s.

In studies conducted at Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park in 1997, researchers observed the competition between cutthroat trout and lake trout. Lake trout were not only better competitors for food, but an adult lake trout could consume an average of 59 juvenile cutthroat in one year. Because juvenile lake trout tend to hide in cracks and crevices at the bottom of the lake, they are at a lesser risk of predation by older trout than are the cutthroat, which are open targets.

Because Fallen Leaf Lake is dominated by Lake Trout, how could the LCT have a high enough survival rate to create a sustainable population? Furthermore, the zooplankton species compositions, or tiny biological organisms that the LCT would have eaten before it became extinct, has also changed. Thus, if an adult LCT has the luck to successfully compete with the lake trout for their food source, how likely is it that its offspring will survive on its food supply? Evidence and careful examination of these two species’ positions in the food web may lead to a prediction that the lake trout will once again outcompete the LCT should they be placed in the same ecosystem. Humans introduced the lake trout into Fallen Leaf Lake and they just happened to be better competitors of such a system. With this information in mind, rather than spending a lot of taxpayer dollars to reintroduce the LCT into Fallen Leaf Lake, shouldn’t we first study the potential for its success? I am curious to know if these issues have been studied for this reintroduction.

Darcie Goodman

Marine biologist

South Lake Tahoe

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