The historic distribution of the Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) was throughout Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, a lake that covered northwestern Nevada and northeastern California. In the past century populations of the fish have been declining, and today, there are pure, self-sustaining populations in only 0.4% of the historic lake habitat and 7% in historic stream habitat, including Summit Lake, Independence Lake, the headwaters of the Humboldt River, and tributaries of the Truckee, Walker, and Carson Rivers (Hodge).
The fishery at Summit Lake is well known for supporting the single secure unique population of LCT remaining in its native range.
LCT were listed as endangered by the USFWS in 1970, and were reclassified in 1975 to facilitate management and allow fishing in specific locations. The USFWS Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan (1994) lists several recovery actions for the stabilization of populations and delisting of the species. These actions include:
- securing habitat and managing LCT populations,
- conducting biological studies and research to validate recovery objectives, and
- coordinate fisheries management activities to complement LCT conservation.
In the description of securing habitat and managing LCT populations, several goals are specific to the Tribe's management of the Summit Lake population of LCT.
One of the goals set forth was to "manage minnow populations in Summit Lake," with the directive that "interactions between minnows and LCT need to be investigated to determine if minnows significantly reduce the viability of the LCT population".
Currently there has been little research or monitoring of the biological production status or flow of energy through the lake. The last food habit or stomach analysis study of the LCT revealed that they were not utilizing the newly introduced minnows as a food source (USFWS 1977).
This relationship may have changed dramatically in the past several decades and an updated study of the food habits of LCT is necessary to facilitate their continued recovery. In addition, the previous study indicates that interspecific interactions and the level and impact of the competition of the minnows with LCT for possible food sources was unknown (USFWS 1977).
A team of scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno are attempting to understand the fishery and food web energetics of Summit Lake. This new information will assist managers in planning future monitoring and management activities.