Sunday, April 28, 2013

It's No Coelacanth, But..

PYRAMID LAKE, Nev. — For most fishermen a 20-pound trout is a trophy, but for Paiute tribe members and fish biologists here the one Matt Ceccarelli caught was a victory.

That Lahontan cutthroat trout he caught last year, a remnant of a strain that is possibly the largest native trout in North America, is the first confirmed catch of a fish that was once believed to have gone extinct. The fish has been the focus of an intense and improbable federal and tribal effort to restore it to its home waters.

“I was in awe,” said Mr. Ceccarelli, 32, an engineer from Sparks, Nev., of the speckled trout with hues of olive and rose...
As Insty says, not too bad for an extinct fish...
Photo Credit: Matt Ceccarelli

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fishermen netted scores of Lahontan cutthroats to feed miners and loggers gnawing at the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But the Truckee River, where the fish spawned, was dammed, and its level dropped as water was taken for irrigation. It was also polluted with chemicals and sawdust. And Lake Tahoe was stocked with a nonnative char called lake trout, which gobble baby cutthroat. By the mid-1940s, all the native trout in Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe were dead and the strain was declared extinct.

In the late 1970s, a fish biologist identified what he thought were surviving specimens of the vanished Pyramid Lake strain of Lahontan cutthroat in a small creek near a 10,000-foot mountain on the border of Nevada and Utah called Pilot Peak. A Utah man used buckets to stock the rugged stream with trout in the early 1900s, but made no record, federal biologists say. Geneticists recently compared cutthroats from the Pilot Peak stream with mounts of giant Pyramid Lake trout and discovered an exact DNA match.
Curiously, that would certainly be an illegal act under today's regulations, an eco-crime, and it resulted in saving a species for posterity.

“They are the originals,” said Corene Jones, 39, the broodstock coordinator for the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery in Gardnerville, Nev.

In 1995, United States Fish and Wildlife Service biologists harvested cutthroat eggs from Pilot Peak and brought them to the Gardnerville hatchery, just a few years before a devastating wildfire scorched the mountain and killed off the creek. In 2006 federal officials, in cooperation with the tribe, began stocking Pyramid Lake with what many now call Pilot Peak cutthroats. They waited to see how the fish might readapt to its ancestral home.
The Paiute tribe that owns Pyramid Lake has an exemption from the Endangered Species Act, which permits them to allow restricted fishing and keeping of the Lahontan Cutthroat.
Along with the help received from the Paiute Tribe, a special exception under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allows the public to fish for these threatened trout. Fishing for threatened species is allowed under the 4(d) rule of the ESA; this section allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to authorize activities that would otherwise be prohibited under the Endangered Species Act. The 4(d) rule serves to relax the normal ESA restrictions and reduce conflicts between people and the protections provided to the threatened species.

Pyramid Lake has a slot limit on the size of fish that an angler can keep. Any Lahontan cutthroat caught that is between 17”-20” and those over 24” can be kept, but all other Lahontan cutthroats must be released back into the lake. In order to protect the integrity of fishable populations, special fishing restrictions are in place in some waters but these restrictions have not stopped the trout from becoming an important fish among anglers.

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