DFW will kill millions of hatchery trout

Jon Klusmire
Register Correspondent

Millions of trout in three hatcheries will be killed instead of being stocked in Eastern Sierra lakes and streams.
The decision by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to “euthanize” the trout because they have been infected with a deadly bacteria could drastically alter the region’s trout fishing experience for the next two years. There also could be negative, long-term impacts to the area’s economy if fewer catchable fish translates into fewer anglers and damages the area’s reputation as a trout fishing hotspot.
All the trout in the DFW Black Rock and Fish Springs hatcheries in Inyo County will be destroyed, as will the trout in the agency’s Mojave River Hatchery. The department estimated about 3.2 million trout of all sizes and ages in the hatcheries will be euthanized. Those three hatcheries typically supply trout to about 60 waters located in Inyo and Mono counties.
“The euthanization of all the fish at these facilities will have a profound effect on CDFW’s ability to stock fish for anglers” in these regions in the near future, the department noted in a press release.
The long-term impact could be just as profound. It could be spring of 2022 before trout from Black Rock and Fish Springs once again are planted in local waters.
The Hot Creek Hatchery, in Mono County, has been tested and cleared for the bacteria. It will continue to plant trout in eight fishing spots in Inyo and Mono counties, the DFW said. In addition, a plan is being formulated to try and bring trout from other state hatcheries to “to a small number of high angler use, easily accessible waters” the Eastern Sierra, the DFW said.
Private businesses in the Bishop Creek Canyon and the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau also buy and stock trout from an Oregon hatchery.
“Euthanizing our hatchery stocks was not a decision we came to lightly, but it had to be done,” said Jay Rowan, environmental program manager for CDFW hatcheries. “This bacterium is resistant to all the treatment options we have available for fish. The fish losses were getting worse despite our treatments. The best option we have available that will get us back to planting fish from these hatcheries in the shortest timeline is to clear the raceways, thoroughly disinfect the facilities and start over.”
Stocking from the hatcheries was stopped about a month ago when the three facilities were placed under quarantine while DFW pathologists and hatchery staff treated the affected fish and researched potential options. The outbreak of Lactococcus garvieae, which is similar to streptococcus, has been reported in cattle and poultry farms as well as fresh and salt water fish and shellfish hatcheries around the world, but had never before been detected in fish in California. Research of treatment options employed at trout farms in Europe and other parts of the world show there is almost no chance for successfully eliminating the bacteria from a facility without depopulation and disinfection, the DFW said in a press release.
While the short-term impacts of virtually no trout stocking will be felt for the rest of the Eastern Sierra fishing season, there could be more significant long-term impacts.
It typically takes between 10 months and two years to grow “catchable” trout of about a half pound in a hatchery. Trout eggs typically start arriving at the hatcheries in December. Catchable fish from Mojave could be ready by the end of 2021. At Black Rock and Fish Springs, DFW estimated catchable trout will not ready for stocking until the spring of 2022.
Trout fishing has been of the mainstays of the Eastern Sierra tourist economy since the early 20th Century. Generations of anglers have visited the Eastern Sierra and helped create its statewide renown for trout fishing.
Anglers were enticed to the area with a promise of great fishing in high Sierra lakes, from Bridgeport to Lone Pine. Resorts, campgrounds, pack stations and local towns all promoted Eastern Sierra fishing.
The Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery outside of Independence was completed in 1918, and put into service supplying trout to stock the region’s streams and lakes. The DFW had an aggressive trout stocking program in the region throughout the 20th Century, including using mules to haul trout to the high country in milk cans. After World War II, trout were even dropped out of airplanes into Sierra lakes.
The completion of Crowley Reservoir after the war created a huge new fishing attraction.
The allure of angling remains a key component of the summer tourist season. Opening Day is celebrated as “Fishmas” for both its festive celebration and the infusion of cash into local stores. The delayed opening of fishing season due to the coronavirus this year made statewide news with everyone from the governor to local tackle shop owners attesting to the value of fishing and fishing season to the culture and economy of the Eastern Sierra.