The worst-case scenario has just materialized for the beleaguered people of tiny Portola: Not only are the rapacious northern pike back in nearby Lake Davis, but they have reproduced and are probably entrenched again.
The state Department of Fish and Game announced Thursday that a two-day electro-fishing effort--in which biologists in boats send shock waves into the lake to stun and identify fish--recovered 28 pike of varying size.
"The large number of pike we recovered means they are probably the result of a successful spring spawn," senior fisheries biologist Dennis Lee said in a written statement. "There appears to be a self-sustaining, spawning population of pike in Lake Davis."
Nearly two years ago, the agency created a national uproar when it poisoned the pristine trout fishery 50 miles northwest of Reno to rid Lake Davis of the nonnative pike. Officials feared the fish would migrate into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta 130 miles away and threaten fragile salmon and steelhead trout populations.
The poisoning effort killed all animal life in the lake, but also deeply damaged the Portola economy, which is dependent on wilderness tourism. Local residents protested the chemical treatment because Lake Davis is a major drinking water source for many of them. Although tests show that the lake is free of chemical residue, local officials are waiting at least one more year before voting on resuming use of Lake Davis water.
Last summer, the wildlife agency restocked the lake with a million trout--from fingerlings to trophy-sized fish--and the town began to rebound.
But in late May, fishermen found a pike just before the crucial Memorial Day weekend. Then two more were found. Then another five. Tuesday's and Wednesday's electro-fishing brought the total discovered to 36.
"One of the questions I asked this morning is why are we keeping count one by one? Now that we know they're in there, let's address the bigger problem," said Portola City Administrator James Murphy.
Local officials and wildlife agents are working to figure out what to do about the pike and hope to present a tentative plan of action to the community next week. So far, Murphy said, the pike reinfestation has not hurt the local tourism industry.
"In my opinion, it's impacted the mental health of the people who live here, but I don't think we notice it in the visitors," he said.