The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is seeking comment on a proposed change to the 2014 fishing regulations at Seeley Lake.
The proposal would change regulations for bass from catch-and-release to no limit. The proposal is in response to the recent discovery of the unauthorized introduction of smallmouth bass, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
FWP received a report about the illegal introduction from an angler who caught a smallmouth bass this summer.
Region 2 Fisheries Manager Pat Saffel says smallmouth bass are predators and can reduce the survival of trout and salmon in the lake.
FWP believes this species has the potential to expand to other waters in the Clearwater drainage and at densities that may impact other managed species, including kokanee, bull trout and cutthroat trout.
FWP has recently improved and protected bull trout populations in the drainage through connectivity and habitat protection, according to the agency. Many of these bull trout use Seeley Lake to grow to maturity after migrating from natal streams and as adults between spawning runs, according to biologists.
The consequences of smallmouth bass expansion may be particularly troubling for other waters in the drainage that may have greater habitat suitability for them than Seeley Lake, according to FWP.
Fisheries staff are continuing to track the expansion of this population and remove these bass as they are encountered, but lifting the harvest limit to allow anglers to assist with the effort is consistent with options provided in FWP’s “Illegal and Unauthorized Introduction of Aquatic Wildlife Policy.”
Smallmouth bass are not native to Montana, but can be found in some waterways in western Montana. Moving live fish from one body of water to another is illegal in Montana.
Anyone with information on who planted the fish is asked to call 1-800-TIP-MONT (1-800-847-6668).
Largemouth bass have been in the system for many years. Attempts at enhancing largemouth bass, including stocking and restrictive fishing regulations, have been unsuccessful and the fishery is considered to be marginal and used little by anglers, according to FWP. Grouping this species with smallmouth bass in this new regulation is consistent with Montana Statewide Fisheries Management Plan, updated this year, which suggested that future management direction for this water included liberalizing harvest opportunities for largemouth bass.
The proposed change at Seeley opened for public comment on Oct. 15.
Comments must be received by Nov. 14. The commission is scheduled to take final action on this fishing regulation proposal on Dec. 12.
Comments can also be mailed to Don Skaar, Fish Management Bureau Chief, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, P.O. Box 200701; Helena, MT 59624-0701. Comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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