Law allows commercial crawfishing at Tahoe

Anglers looking to cash in on the wealth of crawfish on the California side of Lake Tahoe are one step closer to being able to legally drop their traps.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed Assembly Bill 165, which repealed a law that banned the sale or purchase of crawfish taken from Lake Tahoe.

Similar to a Nevada law adopted last year, the new California law also states that any commercial take of crawfish is for the primary purpose of reducing the population.

Before anglers can start trolling the California side of the lake, the Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations that govern the commercial take of crawfish must be rewritten.

Fred Jackson, the owner of Tahoe Lobster Co., the area’s most prominent commercial crawfish operation, expects the green light around spring.

“There’s a time lag where they’re going to have to rewrite all the regulations,” Jackson said. “It’s the same situation we had with Nevada.”

Scientists estimate there are more than 240 million signal crawfish in Lake Tahoe. University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Sudeep Chandra thinks the species is contributing to algae blooms and declining clarity in the lake’s near-shore waters.

“With the millions and millions of crayfish in Lake Tahoe, a mechanism that increases the demand for anglers and harvesters to take them out is going to benefit the lake,” Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokeswoman Kristi Boosman said.

The California ban dates to the late 1960s, when a Swedish researcher was rumored to have sold nearly 100,000 Lake Tahoe crawfish to his country under the premise of research and repopulation.

At that time, Sweden’s highly prized crawfish population had been decimated by a fungal outbreak. The Lake Tahoe breed was found to be immune to the fungus.

In 1970, Assembly member Eugene Chappie introduced a bill that would ban the commercial sale of crawfish. Thought to benefit Lake Tahoe, the tiny lobster-like crustaceans were on their way to being protected.

“They’re especially valuable in the shallows of Lake Tahoe because they act as a cleanup crew,” limnologist Charles R. Goldman was quoted saying in a 1978 National Geographic article. Chappie’s bill passed and the sale of crawfish from the Lake Tahoe Basin was banned, until now.

Since, scientists have changed their view of the invasive species. They have been found to excrete nitrogen and phosphorous and provide invasive warmwater fish such as the small-mouth bass a food source.


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