The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously passed a new fisheries management plan for Canyon Ferry, Hauser and Holter reservoirs and their connecting river sections Thursday.
The vote drew applause from anglers and concludes an arduous process that began more than a year ago after the commission rejected the plan proposed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks due to concerns over a lack of public participation in the plan’s development. The management plan offers goals and priorities for the fisheries which drives regulations and other management actions such as stocking.
Over the last year, FWP held multiple open houses and offered an online survey which generated nearly 1,200 comments. A 15-member citizen working group also convened to offer recommendations.
Concerns about the fisheries, particularly with the management of walleye and a lack of mid-sized walleye considered prime table fare in Canyon Ferry, has brought calls from anglers for major changes to the management plan as FWP worked on its update. Other major issues included concern about perch populations in Holter and Canyon Ferry and reduced stocking of rainbow trout due to budget cuts.
As recently as October, FWP was continuing to draw criticism from some anglers over aspects of the plan. During a commission meeting, walleye anglers objected to the plan’s release for public comment, saying they believed as drafted, it focused too heavily on removing predatory walleye when other fish populations dipped rather than looking at other factors and potential management options.
But changes made between the October meeting and Thursday assuaged most of those concerns with members of Walleyes Unlimited thanking the department and saying they agree with the direction of the new management plan. Jim Gillespie with Walleyes Unlimited said it was important moving forward to tackle the dynamics of the reservoirs and the increasing fishing pressure they’re seeing.
One of the major goals of the new management plan was to find new and creative ways to make the highly technical document more easily understood by the general public, said Adam Strainer, Helena-area fisheries biologist.
“The theme of this plan is ‘adapt and respond,’” Strainer said.
FWP developed an executive summary that talks about the plan’s core components and created an online story map. The online version uses a number of interactive aspects to access data, the public process behind the plan.
“Suffice it to say it’s a really neat, contemporary way to consume management plans,” Strainer said. “I don’t think the agency has tackled anything like this before and I think it’s a fresh perspective.”
Commissioner Richard Stucker of Chinook also offered praise for the plan and the work that went into it. Stucker represented the commission as a member on the working group that helped develop it.
“I think during this process I saw a lot of growth in the individuals within the department and I think the final product when it came out, I think it showed the public that the department was willing to listen,” he said. “And there was a perception out there before this process that I heard several times that we weren’t really willing to listen, and the commission wasn’t willing to listen. Through that whole process I think it has encouraged the public out there to understand that they can come to the department when they have questions or concerns, and they will be listened to.”
As part of the management plan, the commission also endorsed the creation of a citizen advisory committee that will meet periodically to weigh in on the direction of the fisheries with FWP. The agency will now begin soliciting applications for appointment to the committee.
Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin
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