Guest column: Tahoe’s kokanee salmon may boycott misnamed ‘Fall Fish Festival’
The annual run of kokanee salmon up Taylor Creel to the spawning beds may not occur this October. Reports from fishermen indicate the Lake Tahoe kokanee can be found only in small numbers at the south end of the lake. Where have all the kokanee gone?
“They’re still in the lake, as many as ever before. But they’ve moved north and seem to be exploring alternatives to Taylor Creek,” said one man who has fished the lake for decades. “They all came originally from the spawning beds in Taylor Creek so why would they go elsewhere?”
Yes, every kokanee in Lake Tahoe came out of an egg laid in a Taylor Creek redd, or nest. So at age 3 it is the custom for both male and female kokanee to return to the creek where they originated.
But the first kokanee in the lake didn’t come from Taylor Creek. They weren’t even native to Tahoe. They’re in the lake because they escaped from a fish hatchery decades ago. For whatever reason, those non-indigenous interlopers chose Taylor Creek as their spawning area when the time arrived.
This year they may have decided to try another stream. But why?
Perhaps they’ve decided that they could escape the bears, raccoons and other predators that devour them at the spawning area if they moved elsewhere. At least, for the first few years the bears wouldn’t know where they were.
Or they’re tired of being a spectacle for thousands of gawkers who gather on the bridge or along the creek to watch the various schools move upstream. Spawning ought to be a private affair, not one that’s commercialized, filmed, televised and in other ways turned into a crass event.
Those are reasonable explanations for leaving Taylor Creek, but some ichthyophiles suggest there are two other reasons.
First, a growing resentment over the change in name of the annual event. For years it was the Kokanee Festival. That was an appropriate name since nearly all of the visitors to Tahoe in early October are here to see the spawning run. But the Forest Service changed the name of the event to the “Fall Fish Festival,” an alliterative title to be sure but one that ignores the fact that the principal attraction are the kokanee. No one comes to see a trout migrate up Taylor Creek. Perhaps the trout go up some other stream, but no one pays any attention to them.
So the kokanee will get their revenge by moving north to spawn. All those folks standing on the Taylor Creek bridge the first weekend in October will be extremely disappointed when only a straggler or two head upstream.
There is, however, a more sinister and unnerving possibility that may explain the potential boycott. Among the environmentalists, and even within the Forest Service, there is a clique that would like to remove all the kokanee from Lake Tahoe. As escapees from a hatchery, they aren’t indigenous to Tahoe.
Non-indigenous plants and animals offend the purists in the environmental movement. That beautiful, aromatic broom that grows along highways in parts of California? Root it out! Burros and feral horses who roam the arid parts of the state? Round them up!
The kokanee boycott, if it occurs, may in fact be a protest against this element of self-proclaimed environmentalists. If so, the kokanee absence from the “Fall Fish Festival” will leave the event without a headliner. The Forest Service may have to net a few kokanee and dump them in Taylor Creek just below the bridge, but if that happens there had better be a barrier at the outlet to keep those kokanee from turning the other way and swimming into the lake.
Maybe the kokanee are bluffing. Maybe on that first weekend in October they will suddenly reappear in the shallows at the creek’s outfall. Maybe they’ll spawn after all.
Maybe those who want to rid the lake of its most notable inhabitants will learn their lesson. The public wants the kokanee in Tahoe.
Ralph Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.