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Montana FWP Doesn’t Expect Major Yellowstone Fish Kill This Year

Montana officials aren’t expecting a repeat of last year’s disastrous fish kill on the Yellowstone River.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, a heavy winter, combined with good flows, “washed out a sponge-like organism that serves as a host for the parasite that killed thousands of mountain whitefish in the Yellowstone last August.” Eileen Ryce, fisheries division administrator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks told the Chronicle she expects the state will “get through the year without any major events.” From the Chronicle:

Outfitters and business owners throughout the Paradise Valley lost money because of the closure, and they worried the whole ordeal might come back again this year. The parasite has killed fish in five consecutive years in Idaho’s upper Snake River drainage, albeit in smaller number each year.

It hasn’t happened so far on the Yellowstone, and biologists say that’s because the river conditions are much better. Low flows helped the parasite thrive and pound the whitefish population in 2016, but this year, flows are significantly higher.

The river basin saw good snows through the winter, and the flows have stayed high through the summer. On Thursday afternoon, the Yellowstone was running at 4,400 cubic feet per second at Livingston — a number that’s roughly 500 cubic feet per second above average.

“We’re much better than we were condition-wise last year at this time,” Opitz said.

That combined with days getting shorter and nights getting longer — which helps keep water temperatures low — gives FWP some confidence that a massive kill won’t happen again this year.

But Opitz and FWP are still keeping watch. Opitz floated the river last week and didn’t see any dead fish. He said there’s certainly potential for another kill, but he doesn’t expect it to be near the magnitude that was seen in 2016.

Biologists have also responded to reports of dead fish on other streams around the state, but they haven’t seen anything abnormal.

Although the fish kill did not reach Yellowstone National Park, it nonetheless prompted the closure of nearly 200 miles of the Yellowstone around Livingston. Parts of the river remained closed for nearly a month, which left outfitters and anglers reeling. Indeed, the U.S. Small Business Administration offered area businesses “low-interest federal loans” to help them recoup losses incurred by the river closure.

At a symposium about the Yellowstone held earlier this year in Livingston, tensions were apparent between anglers and agriculturalists who each use the river in markedly different ways.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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