Montana’s fisheries will take time to ‘bounce back from these extreme impacts’

Montana’s fisheries are “not out of the woods yet” with exceptionally low flows, though fishing restrictions and closures have been lifted in many places.

“We’re still in pretty extreme conditions, especially given the time of year we’re going in here. Usually we start seeing flows pick up much better than what we’re seeing now,” Eric Roberts, Fish Management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told The Center Square.

In early September, he said moderate temperatures are more common than what has been seen, so fisheries were still in a pretty extreme situation even though it had improved from a few weeks ago.

“But as far as the impacts on the fisheries, we still really don’t know that yet. And we really won’t know the full impacts. It’s probably going to take a season, two, three or maybe even more before we really fully know the impacts of the extreme heat and low flows and what those had on our fisheries,” Roberts said.

One of the reasons is that Montana FWP doesn’t get out to do monitoring surveys until spring. Field crews are just now getting out to start measuring to determine if they can see any impacts to fisheries from the trends of the hot summer and low flows.

“We’ll start learning more here just over the next few months as we collect more of our fisheries data,” he said.

Montana’s river and stream fisheries are almost all wild fisheries and are dependent on wild reproduction to sustain them.

Whenever they experience extreme conditions like what has been seen this past year, Roberts said impacts would be seen. By relying on the wild component, they have a lot of resiliency and Montana FWP expects them to bounce back.

“Again, that’s not something that’s going to happen just in one good spawning year. It’ll take a little bit of time for these fisheries to bounce back from these extreme impacts,” he said.

The fisheries are expected to come back in the next couple of fishing seasons, Roberts said.

To help them along, a lot of watersheds have robust drought plans in place. Temperature or flow triggers prompt ag producers and other water users to take some conservation measures to keep some water in the river. Montana FWP and anglers take part in the shared sacrifice model, in which ag producers give up some water to keep the stream flow going. The anglers give up some fishing, avoiding the hottest part of the day as Montana FWP implements restrictions to prevent that.

“We have some really good examples, some really well-structured drought plans in the state. But then there’s a lot of other, just much more informal agreements,” Roberts said.

This article was originally posted on Montana’s fisheries will take time to ‘bounce back from these extreme impacts’

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