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Governor Gianforte Host Round Table Meeting On Declining Trout Populations

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Wednesday August 2 Governor Gianforte along with members of the Big Hole Watershed Committee, Fish Wildlife and Parks, Trout Unlimited, Biologist, and the angling community gathered in Wise River to host a roundtable discussion on the declining fish populations in the Big Hole River, Beaverhead, and Ruby.

Trout populations have been declining steadily in these rivers since 2011. This has raised concerns with the anglers as well as other outdoor enthusiasts. The roundtable discussion was held to introduce those who will be working on the problem as well as those who need to have a voice in this as fingers have been pointed on social media.

Wednesday’s discussion started off with Dr. Al Zale, giving a quick introduction of his background and what studies they are looking at doing that could cause the declining fish populations in these waters. “We have a lot to learn and find out. That’s what my students and I will be doing, we’ve been doing that in collaboration with other faculty there at MSU, and then also working closely with FWP,” Dr. Zale said.

Next was Big Hole Lodge founder’s Craig and Wade Fellin discussing their concerns on the number of steps they have taken with themselves and how a collaboration is needed to get to the bottom of the problem.

Wade Fellin talked about the catching of fish they described as zombie trout. These fish are in the process of dying and have developed strange burns and or discoloration on them. They are asked to keep these fish and turn them over to be tested and studied but the fish are shipped back to Pennsylvania, and this takes time to get the results back.

The Big Hole Watershed Committee spoke of the research they have been doing for twenty plus years. The data they have presented in the past seemed to fall on deaf ears on a federal level. But they have also looked at ways to help conserve water when the snowpack is around as well as ways to help with the monitoring of the river and helping fix issues with water loss.

Jim Hagenbarth, rancher and founding member of the committee gave a brief history of his family who helped settle the valley. He stated, “We know a lot about this river, it is our life.” He also went on to talk about ways other areas have improved water quality along with water preservation. “It is not about preserving the land. It is about making it better.”

The meeting saw a large turnout with well over 100 people from ag producers, anglers, and irrigators present to voice their concerns.

Dr. Al Zale, MSU professor and leader of the Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, spoke to research underway.

Gov. Gianforte holding roundtable discussion on low trout counts in the Jefferson Basin

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