Why Yellowstone is worried about this fish

The recent catch of a smallmouth bass in Montana’s Gardner River has Yellowstone National Park biologists deeply concerned about a possible “invasion” of the non-native species.

The bass was caught Feb. 19 near the Gardner River’s confluence with the Yellowstone River, just north of the park.

In a Wednesday news release, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) explained that an established population of smallmouth bass in the region “could pose threats to native fish in the upper Yellowstone River.”

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Also on Wednesday, Todd Koel, lead fisheries biologist for Yellowstone National Park, responded to news of the catch with this statement:

“Smallmouth bass are an invasive predatory species that will threaten our wild and native trout populations if they become established in the upper Yellowstone River.

“Since anglers are highly effective at suppressing invasive fish in waters where they coexist with native species such as cutthroat trout, they will be required to kill and report any smallmouth bass caught in Yellowstone National Park when the fishing season opens Memorial Day weekend.

“Additionally, Yellowstone National Park and USGS biologists will be sampling the Gardner and Yellowstone rivers, upstream of where the invasive smallmouth bass was caught. Over the next few weeks, biologists will monitor these rivers closely to gauge the possible extent of the invasion.

“Our goal is to protect native fish populations and natural ecosystems. We will do everything in our power to prevent the establishment of smallmouth bass in the park and prevent them from preying on and displacing trout and other native fish.”

It’s not clear how the smallmouth bass got into the Gardner River, but it might have involved an illegal transfer of bass from another waterbody.

The FWP stated that previous smallmouth bass catches have been reported in two other locations on the upper Yellowstone River during the past seven years. Another catch was reported in the Shields River, a tributary to the Yellowstone River east of Livingston.

The agency added, however, that yearly sampling projects have not turned up any smallmouth bass.

The free-flowing Yellowstone River is one of the world’s premier fly-fishing destinations for wild and native trout.

–Smallmouth bass image is courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

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