There is still much we don’t know as we continue to wait for samples taken from the Yellowstone River and its tributaries by Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks. Those samples are being analyzed presently and we expect to hear about the results soon, and as soon as we learn more we will pass that information on to our members and the community. Good news is the Montana Department of Labor will be in Livingston, Monday August 29 to provide assistance to those who are being impacted by this economically.

Here is the latest update from FWP:

Friday, August 19, 2016

NEW: Governor Steve Bullock Friday, Aug. 26 that he has activated the Department of Labor and Industry’s Rapid Response Unit to provide resources, training and information to Montanans impacted by the recent closure of the Yellowstone River.

The Rapid Response Unit, created through the Dislocated Worker Program, will hold a public informational meeting Monday, Aug. 29, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge in Livingston.  The meeting is free and open to the public.

OVERVIEW

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) began surveying the Yellowstone River on Friday, Aug. 12 after receiving reports of numerous dead Mountain Whitefish.

Crews paid close attention to the stretch of the Yellowstone from Emigrant to Springdale as this appeared and continues to be the area hardest hit by the fish kill.

To date, we have counted more than 4,000 dead Whitefish and a small numbers of other species including Rainbow Trout, Yellowstone Cutthroat, Longnose Suckers, Sculpin, and Longnose Dace.

FWP has confirmed the fish kill as far upstream as near the border of Yellowstone National Park to Grey Bear Fishing Access Site (west of Big Timber) – nearly 100 river miles.

Samples collected of live, dying and dead fish on numerous main stem floats since Aug. 13 were sent to, and have been processed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Bozeman Fish Health Center.

The latest round of fish sampling – started earlier this week – has crews collecting live fish on waters outside of the known disease area (on tributaries and the stretch between Big Timber and Laurel) in order to get a better understanding of the distribution of the parasite. Testing by the Fish Health Center on those samples will take 2 days.

It should be noted that the Department of Environmental Qualilty also performed water quality testing on Aug. 17 and results are expected by the end of next week.

THE CAUSE

Initial tests results on whitefish which came back late last week indicate the catalyst for the fish kill is Proliferative Kidney Disease. In recent results, the one Yellowstone Cutthroat found dead also tested positive. Other testing continues, results will be posted as they become available.

The disease is caused by a microscopic parasite – and is known to occur in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. The disease has been documented previously in two isolated locations in central Montana over the past 20 years. Recent outbreaks have occurred in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Other factors – high water temperatures, low stream flows and recreational stressors – in concert with this infection increase mortality.

This disease can have devastating effects on Whitefish and trout.

MORE ABOUT CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

Environmental conditions overall on the Yellowstone River have been poor in terms of both flows and temperature.

Low stream flows
The Yellowstone is running at close to historic lows. Currently, the river is flowing within 280 cubic feet per second (cfs) above the all time low. Flows are expected to drop through February of next year.

Water temperatures
For more than a month starting in mid-July, daytime high Yellowstone River water temperatures (at Livingston) hovered around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideal temperatures for whitefish and trout are mid-50s.

THE SIGNIFICANCE

The magnitude of the kill is unlike anything our fish health specialists have seen, and that’s likely because fish in this river system are naïve to this parasite (meaning less immune to the disease) then populations previously exposed to it.

FWP is concerned that any additional stress on fish may cause similar levels of mortality in trout populations.

FWP is also concerned that the parasite could be spread from the Yellowstone River Basin to other Montana waters.

FWP’S RESPONSE

On Aug. 19, FWP implemented a complete closure to all water-based recreation on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries from Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary in Gardiner to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel.

The closure was put in place to help limit the chance of the spread of the parasite to adjacent rivers through boats, tubes, waders and other human contact and minimize further mortality in all fish species.

Removing human activity in the area noted also allows fish to take refuge in pools without additional stressors giving them the best chance of survival.

THE DECISION

The decision to close the river was not taken lightly. It came after careful consideration by FWP’s Fisheries team, Region 3 Supervisor, Region 5 Supervisor, and FWP’s Director’s Office after looking at the sheer magnitude of the fish kill and test results. The final decision (or approval) came from Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, with support from Governor Steve Bullock.

AS TO REOPENING THE RIVER

FWP understands this decision has and will have a tremendous impact on local communities, businesses and visitors. As an agency, FWP has no intent to keep the river closed any longer than necessary. FWP is doing everything it can to get the information needed to make the right decisions considering the health of the river while making sure all those affected by this closure are kept in mind and informed.

FWP’s monitoring of the Yellowstone is set up so that staff can look at all segments and prioritize sampling. Again, testing takes time, but the information gathered will inform experts as to how fish in certain areas are responding.

There are no set criteria for reopening the river as this is an unprecedented event. This is a fluid situation and there is the possibility to evaluate the reopening of different segments and to some recreational uses as we gather more information.

GOING FORWARD

FWP will continue to inform the public and the media as we continue to monitor the river.  We are learning everyday in order to narrow the decision space. Formal evaluation of the closure will take place at least every three days using the latest data and testing results.

RISKS TO HUMANS, PETS, ETC.

While the parasite associated with this fish kill has not been shown to cause health problems in humans, birds, dogs and other mammals, bacteria and other harmful materials associated with decomposing fish could sicken pets. FWP is urging the public to keep pets out of contact with fish carcasses along the banks of the Yellowstone River.

 

Link to FWP Site HERE

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