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Environment & Science

Decline Of Brown Trout Fish Population Raises Concern Over Pollution And Low River Flows

Big Hole Lodge
Facebook Live
Phil Monahan with Orvis, Brian Wheeler with the Big Hole River Foundation, Guy Alsentzer with Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and Wade Fellin with Big Hole Lodge discuss dwindling brown trout numbers in southwest Montana during a Facebook Live event June 30, 2021.

A panel of waterway stakeholders today raised alarm bells on declining brown trout numbers in southwest Montana.

The Facebook Live talk coincided with the release of an Upper Missouri Waterkeeper report finding southwest Montana rivers face low flows, rising temperatures and increased pollution.

Those factors could be impacting brown trout populations, but biologists aren’t sure of the exact culprit. Big Hole Lodge co-owner Wade Fellin says it’s a scary time to be a fishing guide.

“Changing land use, over nutrient pollution, all these unknowns. It’s time now to manage for these and study these and figure out how we plan for the future rather than sit back and go ‘Oh shoot, we lost seven fabled rivers,’” Fellin says.

The Montana Standard reports the Big Hole River’s most popular angling section near Melrose has just over 20% of the brown trout it had seven years ago. The decline includes juvenile brown trout numbers, which is problematic for rebuilding populations.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is surveying the public about potential measures to conserve fish populations, including seasonal fishing closures and catch and release restrictions.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider public input as it debates potential regulations during an August meeting.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse Reporter.