Woman faces possible jail time for "freeing" tilapia into Lake Chabot

A Bay Area woman is facing fines and possible jail time for releasing non-native fish into Lake Chabot. While the crime may seem trivial, it could alter or destroy the existing ecosystem.

The placid waters of Lake Chabot could hide an on-going pitched battle for dominance. This, after an unidentified woman disobeyed posted signs, and dumped upwards of nine tilapia into these waters.

“It’s very curious. I mean that’s a very odd thing for anyone to do,” said an unidentified park walker.

Park employees say the same woman made multiple trips over a two week period. Police say she confessed to the crimes Monday, claiming she “rescued” the fish from a nearby store..

“Asian woman, died hair. Mid 50s. I haven’t seen her dump anything in, but I’ve seen her go from the edge of the lake and walk off with a bucket,” said Liam Hossenlopp, who works as a dock attendant at the lake marina.

Tilapia is a white, flakey-meat fish, with a consistency similar to trout. It’s popular as an inexpensive dinner entrée.

“A lot of people because they don’t like that stronger flavor, they prefer the tilapia because it’s very mild, or they can feed (it) their kids,” said Bruno DaSilva, owner of L & F Fish Market in San Jose.

But park officials and officers with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife say tilapia is not native to California, and is an invasive species. Once it’s introduced to lake already containing trout and catfish, it can upset the ecosystem..

“There are some potential disease transfer issues that are very real. And we’ve seen this kind of thing happen before,” said captain Patrick Foy of the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Added Joe Sullivan of the East Bay Regional Park System, “They would directly compete with those resident populations. They would eat the eggs. They would eat the food. They would eat the food that they’re eating. They might even eat their young.”

Officials says while tilapia is invasive, it doesn’t do well in cold water. They’re hoping a winter spent in chilly Lake Chabot will solve this problem before any real damage can be done.

“We’re actually real happy that we were able to catch her sooner rather than later,” said Sullivan.

The unnamed offender has been cited by park police. This case is in the hands of the county district attorney. The accused faces a maximum $1,000 fine and six months in jail, for a well-intentioned act that could end up doing lasting harm.