HELENA — Montana now has its first-ever statewide fisheries plan.
The Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission adopted the plan last week, after noting that it’s a complex document that tries to balance a wide range of issues.
“We have seven different regions with different fisheries and you’ve put it all together,” Commissioner Bob Ream told Fisheries Bureau Chief Bruce Rich. “You and your staff have done a tremendous job and it’s a valuable document for us as commissioners. It makes our job easier.”
Rich noted that they held 10 public meetings across the state, sent out postcards to 1,500 people and held a 47-day comment period on the plan, which was more than a year in the making. They received written comments from 77 individuals and organizations, which included overall support of the plan; requests for more information on how FWP will manage non-native fish; what impacts climate change may have on fisheries; how FWP will evaluate and operate its hatchery program; and comments on species management for particular bodies of water.
“This lays the background for some processes to deal with conflicts and more importantly provides background and our commitment,” Rich said.
However, not everyone believes the plan goes far enough or is complete. Mark Aagenes, conservation director for Montana Trout Unlimited, said their members are confused by the plan.
“What needs does this actually address?” he asked. “That’s sad, because there are parts that are really important and really good. It’s an amazing catalog of what exists today and there’s a lot of good in this document. But I think there’s also been some dramatically lost opportunities as well.”
He notes that in his opinion, the plan doesn’t highlight how habitat will be protected; it doesn’t address artificial fish ponds, which Aagenes calls “cesspools of whirling disease;” and he’d like to see more about illegal introduction of fish, and the issue of native versus non-native species.
“This is intended to be a statewide fisheries management plan, but the fact is it isn’t,” Aagenes said. “It doesn’t even consider some of the most highly controversial areas in the state of Montana.
“If we try to figure out how to alleviate the controversy it doesn’t get to that. It just says we’ll deal with that in other prospective documents.”
Jim Manning of Clancy said he also had concerns. He notes that he’s a veteran of the “walleye wars” in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, and he’s concerned that they’re being illegally introduced in a similar fashion on West Slope reservoirs and lakes. He also wanted to see a more aggressive hatchery program involving bull trout.
Yet Commissioner Ron Moody agreed with Ream, saying that the fisheries bureau did a great job producing a description of what is happening now in the state with some direction as to how they will operate in the future.
“What’s not humanly possible is to resolve all the conflicts right now,” Moody said. “I just want to make sure the process, the structure or architecture for making those decisions is in place … so six years from now we’re not still bickering over what fish is in what water — if that’s humanly possible.”