The author, Don Morton, a June Lake resident, is one of seven Commissioners on the Mono County Fisheries and Wildlife Commission. In no way does this article reflect the official views, opinions or agendas of the other Commissioners, Mono County Tourism, or the Mono County Board of Supervisors. Further, I want to point out, I am not a fisheries biologist and have no scientific training. What I’ve learned comes from years of observation, logic and a passion for trout fishing in the Eastern Sierra.
Fishing in Mono County
Many folks long for the good old days of catching trout in various areas of Mono County. Times have changed, now you have to “fish” for them. There are those that believe stocking more hatchery raised fish is all that would be required to make fisheries in Mono County great again. Everybody wishes it was that simple. You should remember, we have no native trout in Mono County.
Many more issues involved these days
In 1980, 2,255,389 resident licenses were sold in California. In 1990, 1,497,691 were sold. In 2016, 978,456 were sold. Clearly, a trend has developed. Far less money is available to purchase farm raised trout while at the same time they have become more expensive to raise. CDF&W and other stocking programs now stock sterile triploid rainbow trout, unable to reproduce. The antiquated culture of killing as many fish as possible is still the goal of many fisherpersons. Four years+ of drought is causing the water table to drop in all Mono County watersheds, at the same time, is degrading water quality. Non-native invertebrates and organisms have been introduced into and spread throughout the area by humans. Heavy metals from historic mining districts are leeching into various water tables. Allowing unsustainable limits for trout. Some fisherpersons, but not all, target spawning Cutthroat and German Browns during their runs to specifically catch and kill the remaining diploid trout able to reproduce. The practice of stocking sterile triploid fish has probably contributed to the “collapse” of certain fisheries. The need to take a more balanced approach to stocking programs, which tend to deal with the immediate time frame while at the same time, ignores the future.
Fishing is a sport
Modern fisherpersons are not subsistence fishing. Stocking fish to make them easier to catch ignores one of the fundamentals of fishing, the experience of being outside in the Eastern Sierra. For example, deer hunters would love to go out and take their deer on opening morning. Should we start raising deer on farms and “stock” them to quickly satisfy a deer hunter, or a grouse hunter, or a duck hunter, or an elk hunter?
Protecting our resources
Action should be taken to help protect what we have in Mono County. Everything could be on the table for discussion. Explore reducing limits. After all, if you put less fish in, you should consider taking fewer fish out. Slot size limits on lakes might help encourage protecting trout able to spawn while spending part of their life in our lakes. Consider protecting habitats where trout spawn.
Fishing is no longer the “Economic Engine” of Mono County
Recreation activities in Mono County have gone under a tremendous evolution and become increasingly diversified. In fact, many question the actual return on investment from buying the farm raised stocked trout to put into waters to only die or be killed to satisfy a relatively few tourists.
A time to change the culture
The culture of killing as many fish as possible is being backed into an indefensible corner. Changing any culture is a slow evolution that plays out over years. Stocked trout are expensive to place in our waters. There is less money available to do so. It’s time to admit, killing fish at the current rates is not sustainable. Government agencies at all levels have less political will to spend money on artificial trout populations. The more trout we kill today, the fewer trout are available to catch in the future. Stocking fish ignores the environmental impact and economic consequences. In case you were wondering about the cost of purchasing stocked fish from a hatchery:
- A one pound triploid trout costs $4.50
- 1.5 to 3 pound triploid trout cost $5.25 per pound, so a 3 pound trout costs $15.75
- 3 to 5 pound triploid trout cost $6.25 per pound, so a 5 pound trout costs $31.25
- “Trophy” 7 to 8 pound triploid trout cost $6.25, so a 8 pound trout costs $50.00
Mono County Fisheries Commission
Mono County Fisheries Commissioners are looking to the future and working on a number of issues:
- Stream studies. Teaming with Trout Unlimited and Cal Trout, the Mono County Fisheries Commission have funded studies on three streams in Mono County. One study was to research the spring spawning run in Reverse Creek, Fern Creek and Rush creek. The intent is to discover what types of trout are using these streams to spawn. Spawning Cutthroats, browns and rainbows were found in all streams. Another study investigates German brown spawning during the fall run on Rush Creek between Silver Lake and Grant Lake. Rush creek has one of the best spawning habitats in Mono County. Huge German browns are caught each fall. Many are caught and released, but Rush Creek has become a magnet for those wanting to catch big fish to kill. These fish are wild fish that have adapted their behavior to not only survive, but thrive and evolve in a heavily harvested stream. Another stream being studied is Mammoth Creek to understand the impact of drought caused degraded water quality and levels plus explore potential heavy metal contamination from historic mining activity upstream. The intent of the studies is to provide CDF&W with current, accurate data to be used to better manage the Mono County fisheries.
- Work towards understanding what we have in Mono County, in the past, currently and where we want to go with the fisheries. The Fisheries Commission together with Trout Unlimited are beginning to develop studies to gather all known data of Mono County fisheries. It would be the beginning of developing a comprehensive study of all fisheries in Mono County.
- The Fisheries Commission is in the process of trying to persuade DF&W to stock diploid trout, able to reproduce, in the Mono Lake and Crowley Lake water sheds. Both are isolated fisheries in that fish cannot move up stream or downstream away from the drainage. As such, they appear to be excellent opportunities to establish a sustainable isolated fisheries that have no impact on native heritage fish populations.
- Try to influence a gradual evolution towards more sustainable fishing practices. The Mono County Fisheries Commission is exploring ways and techniques to promote sustainable fishing practices that could reduce the need to rely so heavily on, but not eliminate, stocking farm raised fish.
- Commissioners are trying to develop programs to attract private money to fund future efforts:
- Analyze spawning streams in Mono County
- Protect spawning german browns and Lahanton cutthroats in Rush Creek
- Perform a comprehensive study of Mono County fisheries
- If interested you can support these efforts by making a donation to Trout Unlimited. You must specify 100% of the donation be used in Mono County to pay for the studies required to protect Rush Creek spawning trout, or to analyze spawning streams in Mono County and/or study Mono County fisheries. We need your help!
The future is now
We have evidence pointing at a collapse of specific fisheries in Mono County. Opinions as to why differ, but common sense tells us:
- The long term drought has impacted the water quality and quantity
- Stocking sterile triploid trout impacts the total number of trout in a body of water
- Taking out more trout than are naturally reproduced or stocked must be addressed
What can we do?
A lot of very passionate individuals are doing what they can. Dealing with the environment is not a simple issue. A vast multitude of complex inter-related issues come into play compounded by different concerns and agendas.
Common sense tells us we must do something!
Mr. Morton is President of June Lake Construction, Inc. and Marketing Director at June Lake Accommodations, a vacation rental agency. He first started fishing the June Lake loop in 1971 and moved there in 2000.