Montana fisheries officials and major statewide angling groups signed an agreement recently aimed at curbing the spread of illegal fish introductions into state waters.
The agreement includes a pledge from angling groups for an additional cash reward of up to $3,250 for information leading to the conviction of persons responsible for an illegal fish introduction.
"Since the 1980s, more than 500 illegal introductions have occurred in Montana lakes, reservoirs, ponds and rivers," said Bruce Rich, chief of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' fisheries division in Helena. "The outlaw dumping of fish has caused irreparable harm to Montana waters and ruined several existing fisheries."
Rich said the rewards offered by Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, Invasive Species Action Network, Montana BASS Nation, Montana Pikemasters, Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana Wildlife Federation, Walleyes Forever of Montana, and Walleyes Unlimited of Montana are intended to supplement the cash reward of up to $1,000 made available by FWP's 1-800-TIP-MONT violation report hotline.
The combined TIP-MONT and angling groups' rewards mean that a caller could receive as much as $4,250 for information leading to a conviction.
Outlaw fish introductions, commonly called "bucket biology," displace existing fish, resulting in a loss of fishing opportunity. For instance, rapidly reproducing perch dumped illegally have squeezed out other game fish diminishing that fishery while rarely growing to desired sizes, as has happened in Lake Mary Ronan and Rogers Lake.
Lake Mary Ronan was the target again last week when several illegal northern pike were discovered by an angler.
Once illegally dumped, unwanted fish often expand to other waters because many of Montana's aquatic systems are interconnected. FWP and the participating groups hope the additional reward will serve as an incentive for people to report when they suspect someone has dumped fish illegally in a river, stream, pond or lake.
"It's expensive and often impossible to remove illegally introduced fish," Rich said. "And it's difficult to catch these law breakers after the fact. That's why FWP is honored to enter this partnership with anglers and angling groups—the people who have the most to lose."
One of the hot spots for illegal introductions is northwestern Montana. According to Mark Deleray, Region 1 fish manager in Kalispell, lakes in the Flathead Valley and vicinity are of particular concern.
"We have seen illegal introductions of walleye, crappie and smallmouth bass in recent years," Deleray said. "We ask the public and people living on lakes to be especially observant of behavior that suggests someone is dumping fish. If you see or suspect something, report it immediately."
In 1997, the Montana Legislature increased the fine for an illegal fish introduction to $5,000 and tacked on potential jail time. In 2011, lawmakers doubled the fine to $10,000.