Delta disaster likely coming down (with) the pike


Mar 11, 2001
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Delta disaster likely coming down (with) the pike

Delta disaster coming down the pike, unless. . .

Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer  

June 30, 2002

LAKE DAVIS is considered an environmental time bomb for Northern California by the Department of Fish and Game, with the potential of catastrophic fallout for the fisheries of the bay and delta.

"We believe that eradication is the only solution," said Patrick Foy of the DFG. "Every day that goes by with pike in the lake, the Delta (and its migratory fisheries) is at risk."

Northern pike, which were illegally introduced in the lake in the mid-1990s,

resemble an alligator mouth with a tail, and are well known for their voracious appetites for other fish and reproduction. DFG scientists fear that if pike manage to get downstream and into the Delta, that they could threaten salmon, steelhead and several endangered species, such as the Delta smelt.

"They take over," Foy said.

This has been confirmed in Alaska, according to the American Fisheries Society, where pike were introduced 20 years ago in a lake, then escaped downstream into the Susinta River drainage. The pike now inhabit 90 lakes and 44 river systems in the region, destroying runs of silver and sockeye salmon and 60 percent of the rainbow trout populations. Foy said the DFG would again poison Davis, which proved to be a $10 million debacle in 1997, but only if Plumas County and the City of Portola agreed on "treating the lake."

In the short term, he said that is unlikely after what occurred five years ago when the DFG tried to kill off the lake. One resident chained herself to a rock during the poisoning, the county district attorney attempted to arrest DFG personnel, and many residents wanted the county to secede from the state.

Then when the poisoning was botched, with the DFG fined for breaking several water quality laws and the pike surviving anyway, the DFG agreed to work closely with the local governments to manage the lake. "We haven't done anything without mutual agreement (with local government)," Foy said.

But anything short of eradication puts other regions of northern California at great risk, Foy said. "We're hoping they'll come around."

At a news conference for the Outdoors Writers Association of California, Foy added the following comments:

-- Planting pike was no simple scheme: "This wasn't a case where a fisherman planted a couple of pike (from Nevada, where they exist in three lakes) and then they took over. What we've learned is that at least 50 pike had to be introduced to Davis in order to have the genetic diversity we're seeing." -- Fish-outs won't work: "The reproductive capacity of pike is beyond the ability of fishermen to catch all of them. They have 10,000 eggs per pound (per female adult)."

-- Undermining $250 million in projects: "State and federal agencies have spent millions in the past five years on fixing water projects such as Shasta Dam and screening diversions to help restore the endangered winter-run salmon. If pike get downstream, they could undermine the success (and value) of these projects."

-- Rumors of pike spreading: "There have been reports of single pike caught in the Truckee River and Lake Oroville, but we've never been able to physically confirm this. Even with all the bass tournaments at Oroville, no one has ever caught one. There is no evidence of pike existing elsewhere in the state."

-- Containment: "We're spending $500,000 a year on our pike program, using a variety of measures to minimize their population." He said these measures including electro-shocking, screening all inlets and outlets to the lake, netting areas with spawning habitat, a short-lived attempt to host fish-outs with a $25 reward for each pike killed, and most recently, using detonation cords to blow up 10 acres of lake per explosion. Nothing has been effective,

Foy confirmed, with DFG scientists noting that pike are having spawning success at the lake.

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