DFW should give anglers opportunity to catch and utilize 3.2 million trout set to be destroyed

By JIM MATTHEWS www.OutdoorNewsService.com

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is poised to destroy 3.2 million rainbow trout that have tested positive for an uncommon bacterial infection, Lactococcus garvieae, in three state hatcheries – Mojave River Hatchery in Hesperia, Black Rock Hatchery in Independence, and Fish Springs Hatchery in Big Pine.

The DFW looked at an option of allowing the public to utilize the trout in some way – with fish outs at hatcheries the option most discussed. But it was decided to destroy them instead.

Why? Because there is a incredibly slight chance the bacteria can be transmitted to humans who could become ill – not fatally ill – but sick. So he DFW decided to error on the side of caution.

Maybe the decision is just an error.

The documented danger to humans from this bacterium is almost zero (not a single death due to the bacteria could be found). It drops to zero if the fish is cooked to at least 140 degrees. In the rare cases where humans do contract the infection, it is readily treatable, and only seriously impact people with a set of conditions. The bacteria – again only transmittable if the fish are eaten raw – can cause infective endocarditis. This happens when the bacteria enters the bloodstream and settle in the heart lining, a heart value, or blood vessel. People with heart problems or artificial value face the highest likelihood of becoming sick, but even these cases are treatable with common anti-bacterial medications.

If the DFW is concerned about human contraction, there is also this: There is also a strong likelihood the bacterium was spread into at least some waters in Southern California and the Eastern Sierra Nevada before it was detected in the hatcheries. These would have been plants of asymptomatic fish, but still potential or likely carriers, and – theoretically – could be transmitted to fish in the wild and then to humans. Will the agency now direct the destruction of entire watersheds if the bacterium is found in the wild? Well, you never know, but that is highly unlikely considering the risk is almost zero.

That brings us to this: Many of the 2.2 million trout at Black Rock and Fish Springs are asymptomatic catchable trout that would have been planted in Eastern Sierra waters this spring and summer. None of those plants are being made. The majority of the trout at Mojave Narrows consisted of small trout, hatched just this winter and early spring from eggs and being reared for late fall and winter plants in Southern California, but also a fair number of catchables.

There is a solution that would be safe and allow these trout to be utilized.

A PUBLIC FISH-OUT: The angling public should be given an opportunity to stop at one of these three hatcheries and catch some trout for dinner. The fish have been paid for by their license fees, and they should have a chance to utilize some of these trout. Make the fish outs only able to licensed anglers and kids accompanying those anglers. Set a limit on the number any person or family can cart away. Sell one-day licenses on site (easy to set up) so everyone could come and catch some for dinner. And, of course, there should be flyers posted about the possible dangers with an advisory that cooking the fish eliminates all danger. Fish outs could be run at all three facilities.

Since the Eastern Sierra is being overrun with anglers and visitors who have no other recreational and entertainment options during the COVID-19 lockdowns, people could be encouraged to stop by the hatcheries during their journeys and have a little fun and a guaranteed fish dinner.

But the DFW lawyers are certain the public consists of idiots and that someone would eat raw fish, contract the bacteria, and then sue the agency. What a monumental waste of trout.

BACTERIA AND HATCHERY UPDATES: No other hatcheries in the state have tested positive for the bacteria. This is the good news. The bad news is that plants at 12 of the 13 summer-season planting locations in Southern California have been suspended (Big Bear did get fish this past week). Plants at the 63 low-elevation waters normally planted late fall through winter and into spring will likely not get full allotments until the 2021-22 winter season. In addition, plants at 59 roadside waters in Inyo and Mono counties have been suspended for the whole summer and fall.

The Fillmore Hatchery is fully functioning and will have big groups of catchable-size trout ready for planting in late fall/winter and another in early spring, but it will not make up for the loss of all 860,000 trout at the Mojave River Hatchery.

The DFW is hoping the three hatcheries can be completely disinfected and ready to accept trout again by the end of this year, meaning they would be ready to plant again by the fall of 2021, if all goes according to plan.

A TIDBIT: One interesting piece of information gleaned from the thorough testing at Mojave River Hatchery confirmed the bacteria in bird droppings on the side of the hatchery raceways. While this doesn’t confirm how or where the bacteria originated, but it does add credibility to the DFW theory the disease came to the three hatcheries after hitching a ride in the guts and droppings of migratory birds.


Recent trout plants at Silverwood, Castaic, and

Pyramid are from Department of Water Resources

Anglers have been buzzing about recent big trout plants at Silverwood Lake, Pyramid Lake, and Castaic Lake for the past month, but no one seemed to know who planted the trout.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it wasn’t from any of their hatcheries. None of the concession operators contracted to have fish planted.

It turns out the Department of Water Resources (DWR) has a mandate under their Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hydropower license, to plant of minimum of 20,000 pounds of catchable trout at each of these three reservoirs each fishing season. Normally, the DFW plants these trout for DWR under a mutual agreement, but because of COVID-19 and the bacterial outbreak at the Mojave River Hatchery, the DWR contracted with a private hatchery to plant the remaining fish in the 20,000-pound allotment for each water.

So, on June 23, Pyramid Lake received 10,400 pounds; on June 25, Castaic was planted with 9,400 pounds; and Silverwood Lake received 3,700 pounds on June 30. All of these plants came from Mt. Lassen Trout Farms in northern California. This completed the 20,000-pound requirements at all three lakes for the 2019-20 season.

The bite has continued to be good at Castaic Lake, but anglers targeting the rainbows at Pyramid and Silverwood, especially using deep-trolling tactics are also posting good scores.


Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at odwriter@verizon.net or by phone at 909-887-3444.

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