Several key proposals on the horizon for Montana's fisheries
August 10, 2022
Anglers will have multiple opportunities in the coming months to weigh in on a variety of proposals affecting fishing and recreation management for Montana's fisheries.
Two efforts look at fishing regulations and fisheries management statewide, while two others involve the Madison River specifically. These four processes will each have distinct timeframes and opportunities for public comment. Comments from the public are a critical part of all proposals before they are considered for final adoption by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.
"We depend on public participation and input from the people who care about our aquatic resources," said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Hank Worsech. "We look forward to engaging with them in the coming months on these important issues."
FWP is moving to a two-year cycle for fishing regulations, where booklets will be printed only in odd-numbered years, starting in 2023. This new cycle will be simpler and allow for improved public comment opportunities.
FWP began discussing changes to fishing regulations with the public through scoping efforts earlier this year and gathered significant input from anglers across the state. Proposed regulations for 2023-24 will be posted on FWP's website and out for public comment from Aug. 26 to Sept. 22. The commission will take final action on the proposed regulations at its meeting on Oct. 20, and the new regulations will be printed by March 1.
Fisheries management plan
FWP is also rewriting its statewide fisheries management plan, which guides FWP's efforts in preserving, maintaining and enhancing aquatic species and their ecosystems. It also provides a framework for establishing fishing regulations that support management goals for Montana's fisheries.
Early public scoping for the new management plan occurred alongside scoping for the new regulations, asking people what the management priorities should be for specific drainages and waterbodies.
The timeline for the new statewide fisheries management plan hasn't yet been finalized. However, it will include ample opportunities for the public to review the new plan and provide their feedback. Final adoption of the new plan could take place in spring 2023.
Madison River commercial-use cap
FWP is currently seeking comments on a proposal to postpone the implementation of a commercial-use cap on the Madison River.
In 2020, the commission adopted rules regarding recreational use of the Madison River. These rules included a commercial-use cap that would limit fishing outfitting and guiding for each outfitter and guide to the number of trips they reported in 2019 or 2020, whichever is higher.
The cap is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2023. However, commissioners have proposed postponing that implementation date until after the commission adopts a method for allocating commercial-use trips to outfitters or a comprehensive river plan and rule package. This will be accomplished via future rule-making efforts and commission action, all of which will involve ample public comment.
The public comment period for this proposal is open now and will close on Aug. 5. A public hearing will be held via telephone at 6 p.m. on Aug. 2 to collect comments on this proposal. For more information on this proposal and how to join the hearing, visit go.usa.gov/xSRt6.
Madison River work group recommendations
In 2021, the commission created a 12-person work group tasked with developing recommendations on managing commercial use and recreation on the Madison River. The group finalized its recommendations in May.
Building on the commercial-use cap, the recommendations called for a new Madison River commercial-use permit that would allow for the transfer of trips between permit holders.
The group also recommended a mandatory, unlimited Madison River float permit for noncommercial users. The permit would allow FWP to gather data on use, which may help inform future tools for recreation management. A full list of the work group's recommendations can be found at go.usa.gov/xS2kt.
Last month, the work group delivered its recommendations to the commission. The commission discussed the recommendations and instructed FWP to gather public input on them and report back in December. The commission will hold a public work session with the work group on Aug. 4 at 5 p.m. to discuss each recommendation with work group members. For more information on this work session, visit go.usa.gov/xSE54.
This fall, FWP will begin gathering public input on the work group recommendations. Input will be gathered primarily via FWP's website, and informational public meetings will be held to present and answer questions about the recommendations. These opportunities will be announced on FWP's website and other outlets as they develop.