They're back. More than 5,000 spiny-tongued predatory pike are once again haunting the waters of northeastern California's Lake Davis.
Planted illegally in 1994, the voracious exotic fish resurfaced just 18 months after the California Department of Fish and Game spent $2 million poisoning the reservoir to get rid of them (HCN, 5/25/98: How California poisoned a small town). Whether the fish survived the 1997 chemical treatment or were simply replanted, state officials admit their controversial project was a failure.
Four years and $12 million later, the state has temporarily abandoned its goal of eradication in favor of nets, hooks and electroshocks - anything that will help control the pike population and keep them from migrating downstream toward endangered native salmon and steelhead.
If even a few pike eggs float over the top of Lake Davis' Grizzly Valley Dam, they could undo a multimillion-dollar fisheries restoration program, says Diana Jacobs, a Fish and Game Department deputy director. But it's nearly impossible to keep track of every egg: The largest female pike caught this year was a 50-inch lunker that could have hatched 80,000 eggs.
Though draining Lake Davis would eradicate the pike, it would levy a drastic toll on the local tourism economy, which has just recovered from the loss of business caused by poisoning the lake.
"We're still looking for that silver bullet," says Fran Roudebush, a former Plumas County supervisor who led the local battle against the poisoning program.
The state is now considering underwater explosions designed to kill all organisms within 20 feet. Public hearings are now in progress.