Montana fishing guides are in a tough spot as their source of income is closed to all boat traffic.
Earlier this week we told you about a massive fish die-off in the Yellowstone River. Now Montana officials are closing an unbelievable 183 miles of river to all recreation activities in response.
The closure affects waters in Montana as far south as the Yellowstone border and as far north as Laurel, which is near Billings. So far, 4,000 fish have been confirmed dead, but officials estimate the actual number may be in the tens of thousands.
“This significant action on the part of the department is in response to the ongoing and unprecedented fish kill on the Yellowstone,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said. “This action is necessary to protect the fishery and the economy it sustains.”
Tests have shown the dead fish were killed by proliferative kidney disease. The disease is caused by a parasite in the water. It is not a threat to humans or other animals that may eat infected fish. Instead, the river closure is a preventative action meant to help halt the spread of the disease through boats, tubes, waders or other forms of human contact.
Outbreaks of this type of parasite resulting in a fish die-off are relatively rare. This is only the third time such a die-off has happened in Montana.
The parasite responsible affects both whitefish and trout. While most of the reported dead have been whitefish, FWP found at least one rainbow trout and have received additional reports of both rainbows and cutthroats dead as well.
Montana FWP are asking for the public to take preventative measures similar to those often employed in waters infested by zebra mussels. They ask waders, boats, tubes and trailers be cleaned before moving to another body of water.
At least two decontamination centers have been set up along Interstate 90 to help clean boats. Officials will be working to educate violators of why the river is off limits, but they warn anyone caught on the river persistently might be ticketed.
One of the bigger worries for Montana right now is the effects this will have on the area fishing tourism industry. “We have trips on the books through September,” fishing guide Dan Gigone of Livingston told the Billings Gazette. “It’s definitely a big part of the Livingston and area economy. But we need to protect the resources as best we can for future years.”
Gigone told the Gazette one of his guides saw hundreds of dead trout last Thursday. He’s not the only one whose business depends on the river. This incident is big enough that Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is now involved.
“A threat to the health of Montana’s fish populations is a threat to Montana’s entire outdoor economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it sustains,” Bullock said.
He noted there are more than 64,000 jobs and $6 billion in economic activity at state here. “We must be guided by science,” Bullock said. “Our state cannot afford this infectious disease to spread to other streams and rivers, and it’s my responsibility to do everything we can to stop this threat in its tracks and protect Montana jobs and livelihoods.”
For now it seems Montana guides and outdoorsmen and women are stuck in a rough spot until this outbreak can be contained.
Meanwhile, south of the Montana border in Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, officials are aware of the situation, but are not considering expanding the river closure zone into the park at this time.