The Montana Chapter of Trout Unlimited announced plans this week to offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who illegally introduce fish species into the state’s waters, something wildlife officials say is on the rise.
"It is one of the most irresponsible things that somebody could do to Montana's fisheries," said Mark Aagenes, Montana TU Conservation Director.
Trout Unlimited is negotiating an agreement with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to make the reward money available through FWP’s TIP-MONT program, the hotline for reporting poaching and other violations of wildlife-related laws. Aagenes hopes the extra reward money will help deter illegal introduction.
“When you look at it in terms of the lost opportunities or the costs to eradicate those species, $10,000 is a very important investment,” he said.
FWP recently found smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake, which come from an illegal introduction. FWP has spent several hundred thousand dollars trying to remove lake trout from Swan Lake. Aagenes said other entities, ranging from nonprofits to tribes to the National Park Service, have spent many millions more on other efforts (check MTPR Reporter Katrin Frye’s recent story on lake trout in Flathead Lake.) FWP statistics show an increase in illegal fish introductions over the last decade. Spokesman Ron Aasheim said the department is not sure why that is happening.
“No question, though, that it’s increased,” Aasheim said. “It potentially compromises what’s a one of a kind fishery, literally, in the world.”
Mark Aagenes said Trout Unlimited is working with other angling groups, such as Walleye’s Unlimited, to possibly increase the $10,000 reward cache. TU and FWP are working out the details now how that reward money would be split up.
“But, the way we envision it is if somebody is convicted for illegally introducing a species into Montana waterways, we are absolutely ok with them spending all $10,000 on one conviction,” Aagenes said.