More dead fish have been found in the Yellowstone River, but not nearly as many as last year, when officials had to close access to parts of the river.
Yesterday, we reported 79 fish (mostly whitefish, with one brown trout and two suckers) were found dead by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials downstream of Livingston, Montana. Samples were sent to a lab to determine cause of death.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, FWP staff found 18 more dead whitefish on a float between Mallard’s Rest and Pine Creek. Staff also found one dying whitefish, which they say could expedite testing to determine the cause of death. From the Chronicle:
They can’t be certain they’re seeing all the dead fish, since scavengers often pick them up, but what they are seeing is still far fewer than what they saw in August 2016. Last year, a microscopic parasite combined with low streamflows and high water temperatures caused a major die-off of mountain whitefish. At one point last year, staff floating the same stretch they floated Thursday counted about dead 2,000 fish on one side of the river.
They still can’t say for sure whether the fish are being killed by the same parasite. Tissue samples were sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s fish health lab in Bozeman to try and determine a cause. Results are expected back next week.
But [FWP regional fisheries manager Travis] Horton said that while they aren’t seeing the same number of fish die, they are seeing the same species die as they did last year — mostly mountain whitefish, a few long-nosed suckers and a single brown trout.
“It sure has a lot of similarities to last year,” he said.
In response to last year’s kill, FWP shut down recreation on 183 miles of the river. Horton said that with the low number of fish they’ve found so far this year they haven’t even talked about that possibility yet.
“It’s not on the radar at this point,” he said.
FWP officials previously predicted there would be no major fish kill on the Yellowstone this year, saying river conditions (high flows and colder temperatures, owing to a heavier winter) were far better this summer than last—better, that is, for everything except parasites.
It’s worth noting: Yellowstone National Park was unaffected by the fish kill. This does not mean, however, that one should ignore what happens to the river when it leaves park boundaries—or assume that Yellowstone is immune from such a catastrophe.
Residents, outfitters and anglers are still leery of the FWP over last summer’s closure, which hit the local economy hard. Tensions between the FWP and anglers (as well as between anglers and agriculturists) were still apparent at a symposium held earlier this year to address the river’s future.
Though a solution is likely long in the making, the FWP and the newly-formed Upper Yellowstone River Partnership say they are working toward one.
Montana FWP crews will conduct another float downstream of Livingston today, August 25.