DFG PLANS PLANTS FOR SILVERWOOD.
The Department of Fish and Game announced this week that regular trout plants will return to Lake Silverwood this spring for the first time since December 1993, when the state stopped planting the fish for anglers at the popular reservoir north of San Bernardino. And Pyramid Lake might be next in line for resumed plants.
The DFG maintained that ravenous populations of striped bass were eating too many of the trout at both lakes, allowing too few to return to the anglers' creel. So the stocking was stopped, even though definitive studies were never conducted to confirm the extent of the striped bass predation.
The DFG's decision to again stock Silverwood was made so concrete studies could be done to document angler take on the fish, according to department officials. The state Fish and Game Commission has a policy that prohibits any trout stocking where the return to the angler is less than 50 percent of the trout planted. The return rate was presumed too low at Silverwood and Pyramid, and the plants were stopped.
But a new wrinkle in the ongoing battle to restore trout plants at these two reservoirs emerged this week, when it was discovered that under the federal permit to operate both Pyramid and Silverwood lakes, the Department of Water Resources was required to plant both waters with catchable rainbow trout. This condition of the permit has been violated, according to Pat Marley, an attorney with the Southern California Bass Council, since the lakes were first filled and opened to recreational use.
According to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) documents, both Silverwood and Pyramid must be stocked - at DWR expense - with trout each year to provide public recreation at the lake. Marley said that even when the lakes were being planted, it was at DFG expense. He said that at least $500,000 worth of trout were planted by the DFG in the two lakes prior to the stoppage of the trout stocking program because of striper predation.
``The Southern California Bass Council has asked me to investigate the FERC requirement that trout be stocked in Silverwood and Pyramid,'' said the lawyer. ``If we find that trout stocking was a requirement in the two reservoirs . . . we will request the Department of Fish and Game to do two things. First, immediately begin stocking trout in both reservoirs for the Department of Water Resources, and, second, request compensation for the plants and repayment for all stocking done in the past on behalf of Water Resources.''
``If they don't perform both activities, this office has been authorized to file a lawsuit to force the two agencies to stock trout,'' Marley said. The ``discovery'' of the original FERC requirement might pour far more trout into both lakes than they saw even during the peak of the DFG rainbow trout stocking programs during the mid-1980s. Pyramid was mandated to have 200,000 trout per year planted in its waters and Silverwood nearly twice that amount - all at DWR expense. DFG officials claim they never knew of this requirement and stocked the lakes on their own with revenue provides by sport-fishing license sales.
Marley said the DWR was also mandated by court order in late January to mitigate completely for the loss of the Lake Silverwood fishery caused during the drawdown to its lowest possible level, called ``dead pool,'' last winter, when a new outlet tower was constructed. DFG surveys show that 65 percent of the fishery was lost during the drawdown. Meanwhile, San Bernardino Superior Court mandated in late January that mitigation measures by the DWR must begin at once to restore the fish and their habitat.
The DFG's plan for Silverwood was to resume planting 16,000 pounds of trout per year during two time frames - from March through May and again in October and November. The plants would be followed up with intensive creel surveys to determine catch rates and angler participation. The program would last at least three years to give the study validity, according to Mike Haynie, the DFG's hatchery supervisor in Bishop.
``I did not know about this requirement, but during our discussions during our lake operator's meetings recently, that issue came to the surface,'' Haynie said. ``It caught me by surprise, and where we are going at the present time, I don't know. The ball is in the DWR's court right now and we are kind of waiting until the other shoe drops,'' said Haynie.
Haynie said the DFG would probably not be able to meet a need for an additional half million or more trout should the DWR request the DFG to plant the FERC-required amount of fish in the two reservoirs. This would mean DWR would need to contract with private trout growers, most of which plan their production a year in advance and might not be able to meet the demand initially.
The Department of Water Resources admits that there is a FERC requirement to plant trout, but there is some question by the staff whether or not it should fund the stockings, according to DWR spokesman Chuck Keene. At the same time, Keene said that without trout plants the DWR is technically in violation of the FERC aggreement.
Trout were considered the main game fish at Silverwood Lake throughout the late 1970s and '80s, when the lake received annual allotments of fish from the DFG. During the late 1970s, brown trout were planted and grew to tremendous proportions, with a number of fish topping 8 pounds caught during the fishery's peak. But the DFG discontinued brown trout plants, which were stocked as fingerlings or ``subcatchables'' when stripers were established in the lake. The rainbow plants were ended in late 1993.
Visitation at Silverwood State Recreation Area plummeted when trout plants ceased, especially during the winter months - when most of the trout had been stocked and there was little other use at the park, according to Larry Cermak, the park's superintendent. The annual visitor rate is 600,000, down from 700,000 to 800,000 during the lake's trout heyday and representing a yearly revenue loss of more than $1 million, Cermak said.
``Visitation is off at least 50 percent in the winter months and probably more,'' he said. ``When the plants were happening, there were fishermen here. Now there's maybe one or two boats out there,'' said Cermak.
``(The new trout plants) will bring people back to Silverwood.''
PHOTO Ken East of San Bernardino shows off a brown trout caught at Lake Silverwood in the mid-1970s.
Jim Matthews/Special to the Daily News