Taylor Creek salmon give up their eggs
At the end of an assembly-line process on the banks of Taylor Creek, Greg Whitaker of the California Department of Fish and Game was the fish milker.
Handed a kokanee salmon by Frank Harris, a Fish and Game fish culturist, Whitaker squeezed the female’s swollen belly with his gloved hand, sending a stream of bright red eggs into a pan half-filled with eggs.
Every fourth fish or so was a male, and Whitaker would squeeze a jet of milt into the pan of eggs, occasionally stirring the mixture with his finger.
Then he tossed the spent salmon into a plastic bucket for later transport to a rendering plant.
While the procedure might have seemed grim to the casual observer, fish culturists like Bob Pool of Fish and Game point out that these are the fortunate salmon.
“We like to say they’re the lucky ones,” Pool said.
While the salmon fry born in the creek face a host of predators between them and Lake Tahoe, the eggs harvested from Taylor Creek Thursday are headed for hatcheries, where their odds of survival are almost guaranteed.
And the fate of the adults is no different than if they had remained in the creek to spawn. Either way, coastal salmon like the kokanee always die once they’ve spawned in the stream where they were born.
For more than 30 years, the fish and game department has harvested salmon eggs at Taylor Creek. The last few years, the small number of department personnel have been assisted by volunteers from Project Kokanee, avid anglers who help improve California’s salmon fishery.
This year, they removed 1.5 million eggs from Lake Tahoe’s salmon. At 500 to 800 eggs for each female, the volunteers netted more than 3,000 salmon from Taylor Creek for the hatchery employees to milk.
After the milking, the fertilized eggs are soaked in iodine for 20 minutes to kill any bacteria. Early in the day, biologists take small samples of tissue and fluids to test, making sure no disease is inadvertently transported to other California lakes.
The eggs will be transported to the San Joaquin Hatchery outside Fresno, and later to the American River Hatchery near Rancho Cordova, where they will be raised to fingerling size.
Later, some of the fingerlings will be returned to Lake Tahoe, while others will be planted in about 15 other lakes in the state. It’s a small program compared to other fisheries, but Lake Tahoe is one of only two locations in the state – Moccasin Lake is the other – where fish and game officials can harvest spawning salmon.
“We just have to make sure there are enough other fish in the stream to support Lake Tahoe’s salmon population,” Pool said.
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