Fish captured in the Yellowstone River by crews with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks may be showing the effects of the July 1 oil spill.
Workers have been on boats catching fish above and below the spill site, which is just east of the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. Biologists use electroshock to temporarily stun the fish around and below the boat and then collect them and place them in tanks.
“There are more visible signs (of stress) on fish below the spill site than above,” said Ken Frazer, fisheries manager for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
On July 1, an ExxonMobil pipeline under the Yellowstone ruptured and spilled an estimated 42,000 gallons of medium crude oil into the river.
Flesh samples from the fish will be tested in state labs. But visibly, gills on some of the captured fish aren’t the bright pink they’re supposed to be, and some of the fish have lesions.
Frazer said it’s common for river fish to show certain levels of stress throughout the year because of parasites and other conditions fish naturally carry.
However, in the samples that have been collected, the fish captured above the spill site show far fewer signs of stress than those below, leading Frazer to believe that the spill has had an effect.
The department will know more once the tests come back.
“A lot of the results are yet to come in,” said Gary Hammond, regional supervisor for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Much of the staging for getting boats on and off the river is taking place at the Duck Creek Bridge landing, which Fish, Wildlife and Parks has closed to public access.
Exxon has set up a washing station there to clean boats as they come off the river. In fact, Hammond said, Exxon repaired the boat ramp there, which had been damaged by the flooding, so they could get boats onto the water.
“At the end of the day, we’ll have a better boat site there,” he said.
Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency said they received ExxonMobil’s revised work plan Tuesday evening. An initial work plan — required by the EPA — had been submitted last week.
The plan guides the clean-up effort and after Exxon filed it, state and federal agencies reviewed it adding notes and asking for clarifications.
Exxon made those changes earlier this week and filed the revised plan on Tuesday.
“We’ll be reviewing the changes,” said Craig Myers, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA.
His department will give the work plan final approval or disapproval early next week.
But, he said, “it appears to be adequate so far.”