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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
We have evidence pointing at a collapse of specific fisheries in Mono County. Opinions as to why differ, but common sense tells us:
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.