From invasive species to high-end pet food: UC Davis researchers, students plan to turn Mysis shrimp into dog treats in fight to save Tahoe’s clarity

The key to controlling the numbers of Lake Tahoe’s invasive Mysis shrimp, which have been linked to a decline in clarity, might be as simple as rewarding the family dog with a treat.

Researchers and a team of students from the University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management have identified the shrimp as an ingredient for high-end dog treats and are currently in the early phases of developing an initial product.

“What we have here in the Mysis is a potential opportunity to create a dog treat that is not only exceptionally high in EPA and DHA omega-3s but also lower calorie, relatively, than anything else comparable on the market,’ said Yuan Cheng, a second-year M.B.A. student, who is leading the project. “That’s a potential winner right here.”

Ecological mistake

Mysis shrimp were first introduced in Lake Tahoe in 1963 by fish and wildlife departments from Nevada and California as a source of food for lake trout.

Once the shrimp became established, however, they did not supplement the food supply for sport fishes, and instead nearly eradicated native zooplanktons like Daphnia, which act as the lake’s natural cleaners.

The small Daphnia, called “water fleas,” are voracious eaters, according to Geoffrey Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, eating roughly 100,000 fine particles per hour, thus improving lake clarity. In less than 10 years after being introduced, the Mysis had decimated populations of Daphnia in Tahoe.

“I am now totally convinced that the Mysis are the major cause of the problem, and controlling their numbers is the solution,” said Schladow in a release from the university.

In 2011, research teams observed that all of the Mysis shrimp in Emerald Bay had mysteriously disappeared. Within two years Daphnia had returned in large numbers and water clarity in the bay almost doubled. In the following years, Mysis returned to Emerald Bay and the clarity returned back to where it was prior to 2011.

The connection between Mysis shrimp, Daphnia, and lake clarity, according to Schladow, had never been previously made until research was done at Emerald Bay.

In recent years, researchers have started trawling for the shrimp in order to optimize how to catch them, when to catch them, where to catch them, and whether the process can be upscaled and commercialized.

“It’s like asking any fisherman in San Francisco or Santa Barbara to go out fishing all day with his crew on his boat and bring in salmon or crabs or calamari, and when they get back to port throw away their catch,” said Schladow. “No, they sell their catch. That’s how they stay in business. Can we do the same at Lake Tahoe?”

Tahoe Mysis Treats

Now, the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in collaboration with Cheng and his team are working to create a program that could remove the Mysis in a way that is efficient and financially beneficial.

Cheng said the team of students from UC Davis Graduate School of Management began tossing around ideas of how to commercialize Tahoe’s Mysis shrimp, moving from fish food to protein smoothies to eventually, high-end dog treats.

“If you know anything about the Mysis, you’re probably thinking fish food, because fish love Mysis,” said Cheng. “Fish food makes a lot of sense, but other groups in other lakes in North America have already been doing this … One of our goals is to generate awareness, you don’t generate awareness by doing what’s expected or doing what’s already been done.”

Cheng said research by the university has shown that Mysis shrimp have 14% more of two of the three main omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA), and that they contain 58% less fat than salmon. Along with being beneficial to dog’s skin, coat, and joint health, Cheng said the goal of harvesting Tahoe’s Mysis shrimp is to create a regenerative system, in which positive returns get funneled back into environmental efforts at the lake.

“When you think about Tahoe Mysis treats, we’re not just sustainable, we’re regenerative,” said Cheng. “We’re not just trying to reduce the harm on the environment. We’re actually saying that every bite of Tahoe Mysis treats directly impacts, in a positive way, Tahoe’s ecosystem and Lake Tahoe’s clarity.”

Cheng added that work is currently being done to prepare for a Fall 2021 pilot trawl on Emerald Bay in an effort to upscale the process. Plans are also underway to create a nonprofit, in which revenues will ultimately cover the cost of removing the shrimp from the lake.

“It’s a business to put ourselves out of business,” said Cheng in a release from UC Davis, adding that the goal is to reduce Mysis population to 27 shrimp per square meter as full removal isn’t possible at this time.

Cheng is now working to build a team to drive the next steps of testing, food safety, and product development.

“We’re not here to say, ‘Oh we have the one solution.’ We don’t,” concluded Schladow. “We have what is really a complimentary approach to what has been happening at Tahoe. What we have is another tool.”

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at or 530-550-2643.

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