Taylor Creek flood devastates salmon run
In the aftermath of the New Year’s Day flood of 1997, biologists say the rampaging waters of Taylor Creek may have destroyed most of last year’s kokanee salmon eggs.
The creek is the main spawning ground at Lake Tahoe of the kokanee salmon, a species that was accidentally introduced to the lake in 1941 which has established a stable population.
“We haven’t studied it closely, but I’m left to think that the eggs deposited by the adults last fall could be 100-percent lost in the stream,” said Brant Allen, a fisheries biologist with the Tahoe Research Group.
After flooding the entire delta, Taylor Creek carved a new channel out of the meadow, leaving many spawning beds high and dry, Allen said.
But some portions of the creek, especially near the bridge beneath State Route 89, appear to be in fairly good shape, said Gail Ellis, a Forest Service fisheries biologist.
Last fall’s salmon run was especially robust, with as many as 24,000 salmon a day competing for gravel spawning beds. The competition was so fierce that some salmon were observed spawning in Lake Tahoe’s shallows at Tahoe Vista, and in the Truckee River below Tahoe City’s Fanny Bridge.
Since kokanee salmon die after spawning in their third or fourth year, the loss of last fall’s eggs represents a blow to future spawning runs, biologists say. The concern is that the adult salmon died in vain.
“It’s a setback,” Allen said.
Later this spring, the Forest Service and Tahoe Research Group will meet with the California Department of Fish and Game to review the impact from the flood on last fall’s run, and consider planting hundreds of thousands of 3-inch fingerlings, said Pat O’Brien, a senior Fish and Game fisheries biologist.
“We are tentatively looking at putting a significant amount of fish into that creek,” O’Brien said Thursday. “Indications are that there was a total loss of eggs.”
The plantings would compensate for only a portion of the lost spawning run, he said. In a good year, 10,000 female salmon can lay a combined total of 10 million eggs, with about 20 percent of the fry dying before they make their way to the lake.
California’s fish and game department annually plants about 1.5 million salmon fingerlings in California waters, but has not planted any in Lake Tahoe in at least five years, O’Brien said. Fisheries experts are reluctant to overstock a lake, he said, because salmon can easily become stunted when competition for food is excessive.
Allen said the die-off at Taylor Creek emphasizes how fragile Lake Tahoe’s salmon population is in utilizing a single stream for its spawning.
“Having 90 percent of the salmon run at one stream can subject them to natural events like this year’s flood or human intervention,” Allen said. “The run is very vulnerable when it is in one spot.”
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