A proposed bill calling for the walleye to receive native species designation is dragging the line of trout enthusiasts on the eve of a Senate committee hearing Jan. 22.
Missoula’s Bruce Farling, Trout Unlimited’s Montana director, argues the idea of anointing the walleye isn’t so much contentious among trout anglers, but just stupid.
“This is like calling knapweed native,” Farling says. “They apparently think that by calling a non-native fish native, they’ll impart some kind of special status.”
Sen. Donald Steinbeisser, R-Sidney, introduced the bill with the backing of Walleyes Unlimited of Montana. The group argues the walleye is native to the state and deserves the recognition.
The debate stems from the question of whether walleye naturally migrated up the Missouri River to eastern Montana or were introduced illegally by so-called bucket biologists. Several scientists approached by the Indy say there’s no historical evidence that the fish is native to the state. Montana State University fisheries researcher Al Zale suggests the increased damming of the Missouri River might be shifting the competitive advantage away from similarly adapted native predators and to walleye.
Walleye generally fare better in the slower—and less turbid—waters of the northern Great Lakes region, like in Minnesota where it’s the state fish. In western Montana, where they are known to exist in reservoirs like the one in Noxon, there’s no question the species is invasive.
Proponents of the bill argue they want to give walleye some recognition in a trout-centric state—a motive Farling characterizes as some kind of “insecurity complex.”
“It’s a kooky idea,” he says. “We spend a lot of money on walleye management in Montana, so I’m not sure what their problem is.”