Montana Trout Unlimited is upping the ante in the fight against illegal fish introductions that threaten Montana’s world-class trout fisheries. The organization is pledging $10,000 to Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to offer rewards for information leading to arrest and conviction of people who illegally plant fish in important trout waters.
Montana TU is moving to increase rewards available following news that fishermen this summer reported catching smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake, a development FWP attributes to an illegal introduction.
“Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money, but when you consider lost fishing opportunities, economic cost to local communities and the cost of getting rid of invasive species, this is an important investment,” said Montana TU Conservation Director Mark Aagenes.
Aagenes said the discovery of smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake is all the more disturbing given concerted efforts by FWP, land managers and the angling community to restore and improve native westslope cutthroat and bull trout fisheries in the lakes, tributaries and rivers that connect to Seeley Lake.
“Unfortunately, smallmouth bass dumped into a hugely important trout waters is only the latest example of a growing threat,” Aagenes said.
More than 280 waters have been infested by unplanned introductions of fish species, according to the most recent information available from FWP. State authorities have documented at least 500 instances of illegal introductions, fully one-fourth of which have occurred in the past decade alone. Introduced fish can compete with or prey on established species, spread disease and parasites, interbreed with established species, impair water quality, destroy existing aquatic habitat, and harm our fisheries in other ways.
Moving live fish or aquatic insects from one body of water to another is illegal in Montana. Violators face a potential $1,000 fine and six months behind bars. Montana TU hopes offering rewards for information through the TIP-MONT program will deter illegal introductions by increasing opportunities for prosecution. Call Montana FWP at 1-800-TIPMONT to report an illegal introduction. Montana TU expects to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with FWP to make the reward money available as soon as possible. Montana TU is also excited to work with the FWP commission and the Legislature to strengthen policies related to illegal introductions.
“Introducing invasive species of fish is like spreading noxious weeds,” Aagenes said. “Invasive fish are like knapweed with fins. We need to stop the problem before it gets worse.”
For more information contact Conservation Director Mark Aagenes at 543-0054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.