Something’s fishy about these Bay Area fish tales

Photo of Something’s fishy about these Bay Area fish tales

Some of these fish tales sound like fish tales.

In the latest, East Bay Regional Park District police this week stopped a woman who was releasing live fish, in this case tilapia, into Lake Chabot. She said she’d been doing it for two weeks in the name of animal freedom, liberating the nine tilapia one by one at the lake’s marina. But she was guilty of a big no-no, my colleague George Kelly writes here, because tilapia “happen to be an invasive non-native species whose presence can damage other native fish and introduce parasites and diseases.”

And since the park district, along with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, have rules that restrict the release of live fish into the district’s lakes, make it a misdemeanor to do so, the park ranger wrote up a report and will pass it on to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office for possible charges.

Meanwhile, the nine tilapia are apparently enjoying their newfound freedom in the Oakland hills.

TilapiaGate, however, is not the first, nor will it be the last, strange fish story from Northern California’s waters. Here a few more:

That noise sounds awfully fishy

A 1985 article in the Christian Science Monitor featured the strange story of a strange humming noise emanating from the hulls of houseboats in Sausalito. Described as sounding like the drone of a giant electric shaver, residents were befuddled and complained about many sleepless nights. Some said it had been going on for years and that the hum was loudest down deep in the hulls. Finally, an expert stepped forward to explain his theory. “It’s not a military secret,” said John McCosker, director of the Steinhart Aquarium. “It’s not the sanitation district. It’s not the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s not an extraterrestrial, a nuclear device, or a Russian submarine.” Most likely, he said, it’s the singing toadfish, also known as the plainfin midshipman.

Ah, yes … the ol’ singing toadfish!

“During mating season in summer — which corresponds to the time houseboat dwellers usually complain — the male toadfish burrows into the mud of estuaries and bays, then starts droning out for female companionship,” said the Monitor. “The drone comes from muscle contractions around the swim bladder.”

Mystery solved. Hum, presumably, continued.

Too big to flail

The San Francisco Chronicle, back in 2013, featured an article by outdoors writer Tom Stienstra about “a poor soul out of San Francisco (who) won the salmon lottery, but lost his ticket: At mid-morning, a giant salmon estimated at 50 to 55 pounds was hooked on the Wacky Jacky. But the fish threw the hook and was gone forever.”

And, no, Wacky Jacky is NOT a typo. “It was like the 52-pounder we caught back in the day, the biggest fish ever on my boat, took us nearly an hour to land,” Capt. Jacqueline Douglas told the reporter. “It’s been a couple of hours since we lost it, came off the hook, and I’m not over it yet.” The near-catch came in the middle of the kind of summer that fisherman die for: a day didn’t go by without some lucky stiff landing a 25- to 35-pound salmon. All of which, of course, made the Wacky Jacky’s angler tale all the more woeful.

Public (fish) enemy No. 1

Northern pike are the persona non-grata of the California fish world. This aggressive and invasive species has driven state fishery folks crazy for years. They are so-called “ambush predators” who use their “coloration and surrounding aquatic vegetation to hide and swiftly snatch prey that passes by,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. These fishery folks don’t beat around the bush when it comes to how we should deal with the northern pike; it’s even encoded in California Code of Regulations (Title 14): “Any northern pike found in California shall be killed immediately by removing the head. CDFW shall be contacted as soon as possible and within 24 hours by calling (888) 334-2258.” Sort of a hotline for reporting extremely bad fish behavior.

The fish from hell

Back in the late 1990s, Lake Davis — up near the Sierra Nevada town of Portola — became ground zero for the Great Northern Pike Crackdown. After the species was illegally and intentionally introduced to the lake, possibly by fishermen attempting to establish a new sport fishery, authorities tried their darndest to kill every single last pike in Lake Davis lest the predators somehow work their way out of the lake and into the Delta.

The pike gained national attention in 1996-97 as authorities brainstormed to find ways to de-pike the whole lake before it was too late, even considering poisoning the thing. According to the New York Times, state fishery officials treated the water with rotenone, “a commonly used pesticide that is absorbed through the gills and blocks the ability to process oxygen.”

The pike came back.

Then in September 2007, the state again tried to eradicate the darn things by lowering the lake and again using rotenone, according to the Associated Press. The efforts were controversial because while pike are not popular with fishery managers, they are beloved by many fisherman who see them as a formidable foe in the world of sport fishing. Critics railed against the state for spending so much taxpayer money over the years trying, without success, to rid Lake Davis of pike using explosives, nets, shocking and repeated doses of poison.

But the pike came back. Late in 2009, the dreaded creatures began showing up again in the lake.

Today, though, the department says “northern pike are not currently found in California.”

Or maybe they’re just laying low.

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