|"We don't say 'poison', we talk about treating the lake," said Patrick O'Brien, senior fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.|
He was answering questions from Electric Nevada about department's plans to apply rotenone this fall to eradicate Northern Pike in Lake Davis, near Portola. The fish, illegally planted there in recent years, pose a serious threat, in the view of the department, to many native species of California fish downstream from the lake. However, Portola city officials and area residents have objected heatedly to the department plans. [see previous story]
"Rotenone is not a poison in the sense that arsenic and strychnine are poisons," continued O'Brien. "It only affects gill-breathing organisms," like fish and small invertebrates like insect larvae.
Rotenone, he says, is an organic derivative of the roots of the tropical American plant cubé [pronounced 'ku-bay'] which South American Indians used to gather fish. They would chew the roots and then spit them into the water, where the fish, unable to breath, would suffocate and float to the surface. "The Indians then would take the fish home and eat them," said O'Brien.
But rotenone "doesn't hurt other critters that eat it," says O'Brien, adding that deer and cattle and other warm-blooded animals can all drink the water without ill effect. He also said that rotenone has already been tested and used extensively in the Midwest and the East Coast.
O'Brien acknowledges that his department is on the public-relations defensive with people in the Portola area. But he attributes those problems to "a long program of indoctrination," by a few environmentalists "who have fought all the treatments," and have spread misinformation that "whatever they say, they're lying to you and they're going to put poison in your water."
"The people of Portola are good people," he says, but "they're speaking their feelings." He adds that there is no way that either the state Department of Health Services or state law--including the most stringent environmental laws in the country--would allow any 'poisoning' of the water supply.
He said the Department of Fish and Game has done many treatments and has been sued many times, but has never yet lost in court. While emotions may color public discussion, "emotions disappear in court," said O'Brien, "because the judge just has to listen to the evidence."
To objections that the scheduled October application of the rotenone is going to disrupt the Portola area's tourist trade, estimated to produce one-third of local income, O'Brien said locals "don't realize that if Lake Davis is not treated, the pike are going to destroy the lake on their own."
He cited the experience of State of Nevada fish and game officials with Lake Comins, just outside of Ely, in the eastern part of the state. Crammed wall-to-wall with chub (a relative of carp) in the early '80's, said O'Brien, that lake then saw the state introduction of Northern Pike. Since pike only eat other fish, five years later anglers were pulling 30-pound pike out of the water. Seven years later, however, after the pike had eaten all the other species in the lake and had only each other to prey upon, "there were only stunted 12-inch hammerhead pike left."
Electric Nevada spoke with State of Nevada fishery biologists and they supported O'Brien's position, adding, "it's certainly true that pike will eat themselves out of house and home."
California's O'Brien says that "all the specialists" agree: if the pike get downstream from Lake Davis in the Feather River system "the pike population would explode," since the weeds and shallows of the river system are ideal spawning grounds for the pike. At that point, California's quarter-of-a-billion dollar fishing is at risk, he said.
"The pike would take over the whole Delta," said O'Brien, adding that there is no doubt "that the pike, if they remain in Lake Davis, will move downstream."
California can't afford to risk that the great majority of specialists are wrong, he said, adding, "the results could be catastrophic."
Describing how voracious the Northern Pike is as a predator, O'Brien said an 18-inch pike taken out of Frenchman Lake before the pike-eradication program there, revealed, when opened up, a 12-inch trout inside.
O'Brien also says that before Nevada fish and game authorities conducted a pike-eradication
program in the Fernley Marsh, near Reno, fisherman in the marsh had discovered that a very effective lure for the pike was a triple-hooked yellow tennis ball. Consulted biologists say the ball most probably looked to the predatory fish like a baby duckling.
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