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Fishing Closures Due To Drought Clarified

Friday, May 31, 2002

Drought & Fire

FWP, anticipating another dry summer, revised its Drought Fishing Closure Policy to specifically name priority waters where closures will occur automatically when low water and high temperatures occur. The policy, drafted last spring, helps balance recreational angling with the well being of the state's wild and native trout fisheries during drought.

"We've identified waters where automatic angling closures will occur and clarified the different closure options we will work with this summer," said Karen Zackheim, FWP Fisheries Management Bureau Chief.

Closures may occur when water flows are at a one-in 20-year low or when water temperatures reach or exceed 73 degrees for at least some period of time over three consecutive days. Until Aug.15, closures from noon to midnight will automatically occur when closing triggers are met on priority waters, such as the Shields River in FWP Region 3 or the Thompson River in FWP Region 1. All closures will be in place until Sept. 15.

After Aug.15, decisions to close waters will be made case-by-case. On Sept.15 all waters will be open, unless an earlier or later opening date was specifically set for that water.

The Drought Fishing Closure Policy describes the type of action FWP will take based on the threat to the fishery. For example:

· a voluntary angling restriction if temperature or flow conditions threaten wild fish;

· closures from noon to midnight on priority waters and in other waters if the conditions require it; and

· full closures prohibiting all fishing on a water with species of special concern such as bull trout.

"More drought-resistant lakes and reservoirs in a region will remain open to angling, unless seriously low water levels or other unanticipated conditions occur," Zackheim said. "This will help offset the potential closing of wild and native trout fisheries that may not be able to sustain fishing pressure throughout another summer of severe drought."

The fishery will be managed as part of the whole picture of water use on streams where watershed groups have drought plans in place, like the Big Hole River.

"Most challenging is managing the biological and social issues during drought," Zackheim said. "For example, when a popular stream closes due to drought, anglers may move to a nearby stream unintentionally increasing the fishing pressure on that stream, pushing it into a critical situation."

FWP's Drought Fishing Closure Policy calls on regional fisheries managers to identify and closely monitor more than 100 priority waters; critical fisheries with wild and native species; and more drought-resistant fisheries such as lakes and reservoirs that can sustain fishing pressure despite drought.

Recommended regional fishing restrictions or closures and the rationale for the proposed action will be coordinated by FWP regional offices and the FWP Helena Fisheries Division and decided upon by the FWP Commission.

The full text of the FWP Drought Fishing Closure Policy, including the list of priority streams, is on the FWP web site at fwp.state.mt.us and under Public Notices. Select the Fishing Regulations category and click on Drought Fishing Closure Policy.