NIXON, Nev. (AP) - In another sign of a welcome wet winter after five that failed to produce an adequate runoff, a scientist is predicting a record spawn of Pyramid Lake's endangered cui-ui fish.
More than 300,000 cui-ui had swum through Marble Dam's fish-passage facility and into the lower Truckee River by Monday in a spawn expected to attract more than 800,000 fish by the time runoff peaks sometime in May, according to Lisa Heki, fisheries program manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno.
"I've never seen these numbers this early," Heki said.
Drought conditions didn't allow a spawning run for the cui-ui last year or in 2001. There were limited spawns in 2002 and 2003. This year's spawn is expected to substantially surpass the previous record of 585,000 fish set in 1999.
"It's a very good year and it's just the start," Heki said.
Along with being numerous, the fish are larger and healthier than usual. Many are close to 2 feet in length and weigh up to 7 pounds. Some are even bigger.
"It's very exciting. It's too bad we couldn't have years like this every year," said Norman Harry, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
Cui-ui, unique to Pyramid Lake, were declared endangered in 1967 after agricultural diversions dried up much of the fish's habitat. A spawning run as successful as this year's is important to the tribe, for which the cui-ui has special significance, Harry said.
Traditionally, members of the tribe are known as "cui-ui ticutta," or "cui-ui eaters," reflecting their ancestral food staple.
"It's important for us because there's a direct connection between the people of Pyramid Lake and the cui-ui," Harry said. "It's our identity."
The big spawn also is good news for the American white pelicans that feast upon spawning cui-uis as the fish cluster in the waters near the Marble Bluff Dam. The birds, which nest on Pyramid Lake's Anaho Island, have suffered in recent years as the drought limited successful spawning runs of the cui-ui they need for nourishment, Heki said.
"The pelicans should have a good year too," Heki said. "With the drought, it's been hard on their success as well."
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal