Cui-ui (Chasmistes cujus), Marble Bluff Dam, Nevada. Photo: Kelsey McCutcheon.
“The flesh of this species is highly prized by the Indians. In former times the coming of the “cui-ui” was a great event, not only for the Pyramid Lake tribe but also for other Piutes from far to the south, who sometimes reached the fishing grounds in such a starved condition that many were unable to survive the first feast. At present numerous little camps may be seen along the river during the spawning period. The fishes are caught in large numbers and tons of them are dried for later use.”
-John Otterbein Snyder, 1917
Cui-ui are an especially interesting fish because they are endemic to Pyramid Lake and the lower Truckee River — found nowhere else on earth. These fish were (and are) very important to Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, whose traditional name Cui-ui Ticutta (alternate spelling: Kuyuidikado) means “Cui-ui eaters”. Cui-ui have good-tasting flesh, and were easy to catch during spawning season (mid-April to June) when they would gather in the lower Truckee River to lay and fertilize eggs (Rivers 1994). Eggs hatch one to two weeks later, and tiny larval Cui-ui are carried back to Pyramid Lake with the river current.
Cui-ui have a lifespan of over 40 years (NatureServe 2014), which helped the species to survive periods of time in the 1930s-1940s when water levels in Pyramid Lake dropped so low that fish could not enter the river to spawn. Today, a fishway and fish elevator at Marble Bluff Dam help Cui-ui pass the dam and go upriver to spawn in the 10-mile reach between Marble Bluff Dam and the Numana Dam (Natureserve 2014). They are currently listed as an endangered species and can’t be fished.
NatureServe. 2014. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://explorer.natureserve.org. (Accessed:November 7, 2014 ).
Rivers, I. L. (1994). Fishes and fisheries of Nevada. Reno: University of Nevada Press.
Sigler, W. F., & Sigler, J. W. (1987). Fishes of the Great Basin: A natural history. Reno: University of Nevada Press.
Snyder, John O. 1917. The Fishes of the Lahontan System of Nevada and Northeastern California. Bulletin of the Bureau of Fisheries, Volume XXXV, 1915-16. Document No. 843, September 28, 1917.
USFWS (2014). Cui-Ui. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from http://www.fws.gov/nevada/protected_species/fish/species/cuiui.html