The drought’s impact on Eastern Sierra tourism took a serious turn for the worse this week when the source for Alpers Trophy Trout literally dried up.
Inland Aquaculture Group, the area source for the Alpers trout operating out of Conway Ranch, was informed by Southern California Edison last October that there would not be enough water to support the fishery through this winter. The Lundy Lake watershed is at 24 percent of normal.
The news sent Raven Angeles and her IAG partners scrambling to find homes for the lunkers with partner and June Lake Marina operator John Frederickson taking the final load to June Lake. The size of the trout pulled in at last weekend’s Blake Jones Trout Derby are the result of IAG clearing out its raceways and ponds before the water completely disappears.
By mid-day Tuesday, area chambers and tourism interests had identified alternative sources of the photo-worthy trout that draw anglers to area waterways, easing what has been a stressful and dry winter.
In an e-mail to Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Center Director Tawni Thomson, Whitney Lennon, marketing director for Mammoth Lakes Tourism indicated that American Trout and Salmon Co. of Susanville could meet the needs of Eastern Sierra waters. The only potential hang-up could result from restrictions placed on aquaculture operations on the east side. If that is the case, the e-mail states that Jim Erdman, California Deparatment of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientists is committed to “finding an alternate provider.”
According to Thomson, Bishop purchases for supplemental stocking are done early in the season, so fish populations in the Bishop area will not be seriously impacted this year.
The last of the super-sized trophy trout cannot be pulled out of the IAG ponds, but will be the focus of the Conway Ranch Preseason Derby scheduled for April 19.
The situation has been more than frustrating for Angeles and Frederickson who have been trying to convert the operation from a pass-through – where fish are brought in to grow and fatten up before landing in area waters – to a full-blown hatchery.
A well on the property would solve some of the issues, but drilling a new well requires extensive environmental analysis, which takes time.
“Our hands are tied,” said Frederickson. “We have to have water” a minimum of 10-12 cubic feet per second. According to Frederickson, two weeks ago the flow from Lundy was down to 3 cfs.
IAG set up operations at Conway in 2007 with plans to expand to a full hatchery. Those plans have been put on hold while Mono County works out an agreement with CalTrans and other grant funding sources. The funding used by Mono County to purchase the ranch came with restrictions that have to be resolved before IAG can fully develop its hatchery operations.
Details between the county and grantors include Mono County buying back the 75-acres IAG operates on with the balance of the property under a conservation easement managed by the Eastern Sierra Land Trust.
“This isn’t anybody’s fault,” said Frederickson, who hopes for a big snowpack next winter. “It’s not IAG’s fault; it’s not Mono County’s fault. It’s an act of Mother Nature.”