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Montana’s famous trout under threat as the drought intensifies

Helena, Mon. — There are few places in the world comparable to Montana fly fishing, and the state’s cold, clear mountain streams are famous for their large populations of trout, especially rainbows and browns.

However, this year is a drought year, and extreme confluences threaten the state’s legendary waters. Rising temperatures at the beginning of the year, anxiously low river water levels, fish kills, and pressure from the crushing of anglers eager to regain the year lost in the pandemic are increasingly threatened. I did.

This week, the state announced new restricted slate, including a complete closure, for some of the top trout streams.

A new coalition of businesses, fly fishing guides and environmentalists also warned that severe droughts may not be a temporary problem and that state fishing may be nearing collapse.

A coalition that includes Orvis, fly fishing companies and clothing maker Patagonia sent a letter to Governor Greg Gianforte on Wednesday calling for the creation of a task force to address the decline of the fishing industry.

John Arnold, owner of the Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig on the Missouri River, one of the state’s leading fisheries, said:

The coalition said the situation would not only threaten the fishing industry, but would also have a devastating impact on businesses. “If the water quality of our rivers continues to decline and our rivers themselves are depleted, these negative changes will also hinder the state’s strong outdoor economy, which relies directly on vibrant cold-water fishing. “The group said in a letter.

“It’s really unique and, ecologically speaking, it’s part of the world,” said Gaialsenzer, Executive Director of the Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “These rivers really hurt and need cold, clean water.”

The· crisis The state has just begun to recover from a pandemic and is caused by the return of many tourists and fishing enthusiasts. According to the American Sportfishing Association, anglers of all kinds spend nearly $ 500 million annually in Montana.

In addition to the low water levels of the rivers and even the dry parts of the streams, dead trout were found floating in the rivers around the state. This is a rare sight in other seasons. And in southwestern Montana, brown trout, one of the most popular fish in the last few years, has mysteriously plummeted.

Trout breed in water at 45 to 60 degrees Celsius. Temperatures in some rivers reach low temperatures in the 1970s much earlier than normal. At these temperatures, the fish become lethargic because they are less oxygenated in the water and stop feeding. The stress of being caught by fishermen in their weakened state can kill them. About 75 degrees is fatal to the trout.

The rivers and streams of Montana are wild trout fisheries. That is, unlike most states, the river is not home to hatchery-reared trout. If populations plummet, the state’s wild trout will have to bounce on their own, which can take years or even never happen.

Low flow and warm temperatures affect sports fishing throughout the west, from California to Colorado. For the first time in 55 years of history, the Klamath River in Northern California was unable to store young salmon and rainbow trout raised in hatcheries due to increased infections due to very low flow rates and warm water temperatures. C. Shasta, parasite.

Utah has doubled the fisherman’s tolerance because low water levels are expected to kill many fish in streams. In Colorado, state officials have urged people not to fish the 120-mile-long Colorado River in the Mid-Northern region due to the low water levels and warm waters.

Travis Duncan, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said: “And as the season progresses, there are more potential closures.”

On Tuesday, the Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife Parks imposed “owl” restrictions on the Missouri River, one of the state’s most popular trout fishing spots, between Helena and Great Falls due to the high water temperatures. Regulations prohibit fishing after 2 pm (the term “owl restriction” comes from the early days of the timber industry. Due to the dry forests, loggers are late summer. Work in the cool early morning. Chainsaws and other equipment ignite. Loggers often heard owls during the early morning shift.)

Restrictions are often imposed at some point in the summer, but this year is unusual.

“From what we know historically, this is unprecedented within the limits imposed,” said Irene Rice, director of the state’s fisheries sector.

Further exacerbating the situation here is the brown trout in southwestern states, including some of the major fly fishing destinations: the Big Hole, Ruby, Yellowstone, Madison and Beaverhead rivers. The population of the river has been declining over the years.

For example, on the Big Hall River, one of the most popular areas of the year, a May census found 400 brown trout per mile, down from 1,800 in 2014. The Beaverhead River has dropped from 2,000 brown trout per mile to 1,000. And these counts were made early in the season, before the extreme conditions of this summer began. The state is considering long-term restrictions on all these rivers. This could include the release of all brown trout and the suspension of fishing in some areas.

To be precise, it is the experts who are causing the decline in such a large area of ​​the Upper Missouri River basin, especially because brown trout are traditionally tough and elastic species and can cope with warmer temperatures. Is confusing. Many attribute it, at least in part, to changes in river conditions caused by climate change.

Curiously, the unintended advantage of wildfires in the west is the smoky sky, which may prevent the river from getting warmer by reducing the amount of direct sunlight.

On the other hand, anglers report that they saw fish with large lesions of unknown cause on the Beaverhead and Bitterroot rivers.

Beyond the limits of owls, anglers are required to land their prey quickly and release it carefully and quickly to minimize handling stress and reduce their chances of killing.

Other factors that threaten Montana’s trout include agricultural changes.

The rancher mainly flooded and irrigated the fields, which returned about half of the water to the river system. Many people now use pivot irrigation systems. It is much more efficient and uses almost all water.

“We may have changed the groundwater so much that brown trout couldn’t adapt,” said Patrick Bios, director of the water project at Trout Unlimited in Montana. This group is a non-profit organization focused on the fisheries industry.

Water pollution also exacerbates the problem. For example, construction is increasing near resorts along the Gallatin River near Yellowstone National Park, where rainwater spills and septic tank systems pump phosphorus and nitrogen into the Gallatin River, causing blue-green algae. Bloom is exacerbated by high temperatures and low currents.

One of the big questions that cannot be answered is whether this year is just a bad year, part of a more permanent change in climate, or long-term dryness in the west.

Arnold, a fly-fishing guide who has worked on the Missouri River for decades, said trout population declines have been occurring for longer than this year alone. “My top guide was able to put 60 fish in the boat a day,” he said. “Now half of that is considered a good day.”

“It’s all about climate change,” Arnold said. Twenty years ago, he remembered that November and March were so cold that no one was fishing. Now they do. “It’s starting to feel like a downward spiral.”

Montana’s famous trout under threat as the drought intensifies

Source link Montana’s famous trout under threat as the drought intensifies

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