The plan to treat Strawberry Reservoir in August of 1988 has been dealt a setback because of uncertainty about the supply of rotenone, the powdery chemical needed in vast amounts to eradicate all aquatic life in the popular fishery.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials are still hoping the planned treatment can come off as scheduled, but the supplier of rotenone, which is derived from a plant harvested in Peru, has not been able to make any commitments that enough of the chemical will be available by summer of next year.

In fact, DWR officials have been told that the rotenone harvest is going more slowly than usual, although the supplier told them he is still hopeful large amounts will come in at the end of the harvest season.

DWR Fisheries Chief Bruce Schmidt said a decision about whether to go ahead needs to be made before Nov. 6, when the Wildlife Board will meet to set regulations for 1988. It is proposed that limits be raised to 16 fish on Strawberry for the spring and summer of 1988 before the poisoning.

The water is then to be closed until the next spring.

If the rotenone supply is still uncertain by Nov. 6, the DWR might just decide to postpone the treatment for another year, until August 1989, Schmidt said.

It will take a million pounds of rotenone to treat the large reservoir, and it will be one of the largest poisoning projects ever conducted. Rotenone is a product of the tuber of the Derris plant, which is a kind of a vine. Peruvian Indians harvest the tuber in the jungle and it is ground up into powder.

The Utah job alone will add about 30 percent to the worldwide rotenone harvest.

Several factors make the harvest uncertain. Communist rebels are roaming the Peruvian jungle, keeping the harvesters at home. Some Indian farmers have found other, more lucrative crops. Some former harvesters are even thought to be involved in the cocaine trade.

Whatever the reason, the rotenone supply is not coming in as it should, and Utah officials are worried. They're also concerned about the price. They've been able to find only one major rotenone supplier in the whole world. Knowing how badly Utah wants the chemical, the supplier could jack the price sky high.

However, Schmidt said the supplier knows the DWR has only the funds appropriated by the Legislature and the price must stay within the budget or the deal will be off.

"Our supplier asked us not to give up, but he can't commit yet to giving us what we need," Schmidt said.

In some respects, waiting another year would be beneficial. The extra time would allow some more experimentation and pilot projects before the big Strawberry treatment. A great deal is riding on the Strawberry treatment. DWR officials have been devoting vast amounts of time and resources to the project. If all goes as planned, they believe Strawberry will quickly become one of the great trout waters in the country.

However, if the kill is incomplete or the treatment doesn't go as planned, a tremendous amount of time and money will have been at least partially wasted.

Thus, officials wouldn't mind having more time to work all the bugs out.

However, Schmidt has also been working to see that the Strawberry treatment is part of a package deal that will include major rehabilitation of the entire Strawberry watershed. The effort has the potential to benefit fishermen for many years to come and to ensure good fishing on the Strawberry tributaries. He is working to see that funding for the entire project, not just the poisoning, comes together so the whole project can be accomplished.

Postponing the poisoning might harm other aspects of the overall Strawberry rehabilitation project, he fears. In addition, as the Central Utah Project is completed to the east of Strawberry, more water will be stored in the reservoir, making it bigger than ever and increasing the amount of rotenone needed and the complexities of getting a complete kill.

Meanwhile, two pilot poisoning projects designed to pave the way for the Strawberry poisoning were successful, although one of them did leave a few questions. Newton Reservoir was poisoned and a complete kill occurred, and on Sept. 9 a small bay in Strawberry was poisoned to test proceedures and the effectiveness of the poisoning.

DWR programs coordinator Glenn Davis said both pilot projects were successful, although the Strawberry poisoning left some questions about how long the poison remains toxic and what are the optimum air and water temperatures, light conditions and mixing methods.

The poisoning project is highly complex and conditions must be just right for everything to work properly. Davis said it would be preferable to do some more experimentation before the actual treatment, but most of the necessary testing can be done in the lab.

Fisheries biologist Jim Johnson said the fish kill seemed to be complete in the Strawberry poisoning. "We spotted some bottlenecks that we need to clear up, but it looks like we can really do the job," Johnson said.

Officials must also figure out how to get the rotenone powder out of the 1,000-pound bags efficiently and quickly so the entire reservoir can be treated expeditiously. The powder will be mixed with water in giant cement mixers to create a slurry that will be distributed throughout the lake in eight large barges that will dump full loads about every 45 minutes. The entire job will take 6-7 days.

Davis said fishing on Strawberry should hold up pretty well next year and, assuming the poisoning doesn't occur in 1988, on into 1989. Fishing will become reasonably good less than a year after poisoning, Davis said, and should be red hot within three years.

In waters that have major trash fish problems, the trout often are skinny and in poor condition, Davis said. "I like to say there are big 9-inchers and little 9-inchers" depending on the girth and condition of the fish, he said. While the Slrawberry trout still appear in good shape, the number of trash fish in the water indicates that the good condition of the fish won't hold up for much longer.

Copyright Dave Webb, 2005