Bringing back the Lahontan cutthroat trout: a story about a fluke finding, genetic study and a tribe’s hard work

Surviving: the story of the Lahontan cutthroat trout

The Pyramid Lake Lahontan cutthroat trout was declared extirpated — locally extinct — as a result of overfishing and a dam in the Truckee River. Built without consideration of the indigenous Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and their cherished homeland downstream, the dam desiccated Winnemucca Lake and lowered water levels in Pyramid Lake, creating a delta that kept the native fish from spawning. However, the fish made an astonishing return, aided by the efforts of biologists, tribal litigators and a carpenter.

Filmed and edited by Ruben Kimmelman.

This documentary was completed as part of a graduate study in media innovation at the University of Nevada, Reno. It premiered at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California in January of 2019.

Reestablishing the genetics of the original cutthroat

The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is a symbol of native Nevada. The reintroduction of this species to native waters was just the beginning of its story. Now, ongoing work by biologists and Fish and Wildlife Services supports the health of this species and recreational fishing at Pyramid Lake.

“The fish have proven themselves over time. Pyramid Lake is a perfect example of why folks should care about a native strain,” Corene Jones, fish biologist, Lahontan National Fish Hatchery.

By Scarlett Spangler and Brooke Ruhl

That effort includes an analysis of the genetic code of each individual fish and careful matching of mating pairs. Researchers seek to enhance the best qualities of the strain while preserving genetic diversity.

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