The Formation of a Fishery: The Introduction of Non-native Fish in Northern Nevada's Pyramid Lake and Truckee River

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David Lewis


Pyramid Lake is situated on the western end of the Great Basin Desert, in Northern Nevada. This alkaline lake has no outlet; it is fed by the end point of the Truckee River's descent from Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Both the lake and the river once contained a flourishing native fishery which included the Lahontan cutthroat trout, and the Cui-ui Sucker. Unfortunately, one hundred years after white settlement in the area, one of North America's largest trout had become nearly extinct mainly due to the construction of diversion dams, pollution, and overfishing. In an attempt to rebuild the lost fisheries and provide recreation for sports anglers, the Nevada State Fish Commission introduced what they deemed to be favorable non-native gamefish. Acting with an incomplete understanding of watershed ecology, the commision experimented by planting fish raised in hatcheries across Nevada and the West. Some species quickly multiplied in their new environment, while others struggled to survive. At Pyramid Lake, the introduction of rainbow trout and land-locked salmon was largely a failure, and fisheries biologists realized they needed to restore cutthroat trout to the lake. However, in the Truckee River, stable populations of wild rainbow and brown trout replaced the native cutthroat. This paper uses primary sources to examine the cultural context and motivations behind the introduction of non-native fish in Pyramid Lake and the Truckee River. Over time, non-native introductions constructed the fishery that Northern Nevada residents and visitors are now familiar with. This process of change continues even in the present day.

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