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Frigid temps kill 8,000 trout at Conway Ranch

January 8, 2011

An attempt to create a viable trout hatchery at Conway Ranch got hit with a big blow at the beginning of the new year, when icy cold killed off 8,000 of the ranch’s rainbow trout, as well as all the fish being raised for the kids’ trout pond.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service was devastated by the news,” said Dan Lyster, Mono County’s development director.

The trout were being raised at Conway under an agreement with the service, whose state trout stocking program has been heavily impacted by budget cuts and other problems in recent years.

The state has identified Conway Ranch as a promising place to raise trout, in conjunction with a private company, Inland Aquaculture, which is headed by Tim Alpers, developer of the famous Alpers Trout.

The loss will be keenly felt by Alpers, who is trying to establish a viable trout hatchery business at Conway, after leaving his Alpers Trout business several years ago.

“Tim’s estimated this will cost him about $70,000,” Lyster told the Mono County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. Alpers had no crop insurance to protect him in case of loss, Lyster said. “It was too expensive.”

The problem came about when subzero temperatures at the ranch created an ice dam on the channel feeding water to the trout. The ice cut off the flow of water, diverting it away from the trout, who essentially suffocated due to a lack of water.

By the time the problem was discovered, it was too late.

The news both saddened and angered the board, which has supported the fish hatchery idea out at Conway as one way to take control of Mono County’s tourism-based economy, should the state continue to have trouble stocking county waters.

Their frustration and anger were increased by the fact that the whole thing could likely have been avoided, if the county’s long-sought pipeline were already in place. The pipeline would have protected the fish from the elements better, but the needed permit from the LADWP has been slow to materialize, despite county pressure.

“I guess this shows the need for that pipeline is pretty obvious,” Lyster said.

Supervisor Hap Hazard said it might be time to raise the question of taking over the area as an eminent domain “taking” – condemning the property, and thereby allowing the county to act more independently.

“I think they need to know we are serious (about getting the pipeline in place as soon as possible)” he said, while agreeing with county counsel that it was better if the problem could get solved with an agreement with LADWP.

Lyster said he would continue to press the case with LADWP. He added that the county may get some Lahontan cutthroat trout for raising, as well as 10,000 pounds of rent fish that can later be planted in county waters.

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