Bucket biology is bad.
That's the message the governor's five-person Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission communicated on Jan. 9 when it approved a new set of rules to combat the illegal introduction of aquatic wildlife into Montana's lakes, rivers and streams.
At a meeting in Helena, the commissioners unanimously supported legal measures that will shore up FWP's efforts to respond to illegal fish introductions. If the new rules are officially adopted, the agency will have to conduct an investigation within 30 days of learning about introduced invasive species. The agency will also have a variety of management options open to it, including the use of fish barriers, nets, habitat manipulation and chemicals. These new measures are now subject to public comment.
The proposed rules are a response to the increasing prevalence of "bucket biology," a practice in which anglers and others introduce non-native species like northern pike, walleye and carp into waterways to increase fishing opportunities.
"All this does is take long-standing FWP policies and puts them into an administrative rule and gives them the force of law," says Dan Vermillion, the commission chairman. "We have illegal introductions occurring with more regularity, on the West side of the divide in particular, and people bringing warm water fish into cold water fisheries."
Bruce Farling, executive director at Montana Trout Unlimited, says the new administrative rules are a sign that the state is taking the bucket biology problem more seriously.
"The problem is we have a bunch of people in this state who take it upon themselves to introduce species all across waters in Montana that are not native to the area and generally have a harmful effect," says Farling. "They are doing it without any sort of biological analysis, without talking to the folks who fish these particular waters. It is armchair fisheries management and it is illegal. ... These guys are vandals."
FWP estimates that there have been 538 illegal or unauthorized introductions in the state since it began keeping records, with the majority of those introductions in western Montana.