At least nine trailered boats checked recently at Montana's roadside watercraft inspection stations have been found to be transporting live fish, which is illegal in Montana's Western and Central Fishing Districts.
Watercraft inspection stations at Coram, Ronan and Thompson Falls in northwestern Montana; at Wolf Creek north of Helena; and at Hardin south of Billings have turned up more than 58 live fish in water-filled tanks used on a variety of fishing boats to keep bait and caught fish alive. Fish found being transported on Montana roads in boat "live wells" included yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye.
"Moving live fish from the water in which they were caught is illegal in most of the state and can lead to big trouble if those fish are placed into other waters," said Bruce Rich, FWP's fisheries chief in Helena. "New fish in any river or lake can change—and sometimes destroy—existing fisheries because new species may not be compatible with the fish already there or could even cause major environmental damage."
Rich said rather than illegally transporting caught fish from streams and lakes in live wells, anglers should put their catch in coolers and place the fish on ice to keep them fresh on the way home.
All boats being trailered or hauled in Montana—including rafts, kayaks and canoes—must stop and be checked at watercraft inspection stations. Signs are posted or placed on the highway alerting motorists trailering boats where to pull over ahead of time. The inspectors are looking for zebra and quagga mussels and other aquatic nuisance plants or animals that are being transported from other states and locales. Inspectors also check live wells to ensure Montana laws prohibiting the transport of live fish are being followed.
The penalty for transporting live fish in Montana is a maximum of $1,000, six months in jail and forfeiture of hunting and fishing licenses.
FWP's mandatory watercraft inspection stations are located at 18 strategic highway locations and boat ramps in Montana. Crews typically inspect more than 30,000 boats—about 4,000 from out-of-state—from mid-May to Labor Day.
Crews regularly find vegetation on boats and trailers, including numerous cases of Eurasian watermilfoil and other problem-causing plants over the course of a season. Crews also often find standing water in boats, which can harbor aquatic invasive species, particularly in the bilge area and in live wells.
A bright spot in the inspection effort, however, also shows that crews are reporting that more boat owners are becoming familiar with FWP's "Inspect-Clean-Dry'' education campaign. As a result, more boats are showing up at inspection stations with boat plugs out and live wells drained.
"Our best defense against invasive species is to inspect, clean, and dry boats, trailers, and fishing gear after each use," Rich said. "If all boaters and anglers get into the 'Inspect, Clean and Dry' habit, they'll help to reduce unintentional introductions of harmful species into Montana's streams and lakes."
Boat owners said that their recent efforts to help stop the spread of unwanted aquatic invasive species are a direct response to information received from previous inspections on the importance of having a drained and dry boat.
For more information about Montana fishing regulations and Montana's fishing districts pick up a copy of Montana's Fishing Regulations at any FWP office and from most license providers. For information on aquatic invasive species, visit FWP's website at fwp.mt.gov; then click "Stop the Spread".
SIDEBAR: Montana Law Regarding Transporting Live Fish
Anglers need to be aware of the laws regarding the transport of live fish, which varies by fishing district.
In the Western District—west of the Continental Divide—transport of any live fish is illegal.
In the Central Fishing District—the central third of Montana—live bait fish, which includes many but not all nongame fish, may be transported live to and from a select list of waters where the use of live bait is allowed. The live transport of angler-caught fish is illegal within the Central District and on the roads that constitute the boundary between the Central and Eastern Fishing Districts.
In the Eastern Fishing District—the eastern third of Montana—the transport of live bait fish is allowed. Unique to the Eastern District is the part of the law which permits the transport of live game fish that have been legally caught, anywhere within the boundaries of the district, but not on the roadways that separate the Eastern and Central Districts.
At least nine trailered boats checked recently at Montana's roadside watercraft inspection stations were found to be transporting at total of 58 live game fish. It is illegal to transport live fish in Montana's Western and Central Fishing Districts. The boats were inspected in the Western District at Coram, Ronan and Thompson Falls; in the Central District at Wolf Creek; and on the roadway between the Central and Eastern Districts at Hardin.
Rather than illegally transporting caught fish in live wells, FWP urges anglers to store their catch in coolers and place the fish on ice to keep them fresh on the way home.
The penalty for illegally transporting live fish in Montana is a maximum of $1,000, six months in jail time and forfeiture of hunting and fishing licenses.
For more information about Montana fishing regulations and Montana's fishing districts pick up a copy of Montana's Fishing Regulations at any FWP office and from most licenses providers.