Wyoming bans entry of out-of-state fish

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Wyoming bans entry to out-of-state fish

5/17/02

By MIKE STARK, Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau

Hoping to reduce the risk of introducing foreign diseases and animals, including the prolific zebra mussel, Wyoming is shutting its borders this year to nearly all imported fish that stock warm- and cool-water fisheries.

Game and Fish Department managers said the one-year moratorium on stocking those waters will give them a chance to ensure that imported fish in the future won't be tainted with diseases or organisms that can cause problems in the state's ecosystems.

"Our main concern is making sure we don't have any unwanted hitchhikers," said Mike Stone, the department's fisheries chief. "This is a national concern right now."

State officials have become increasingly worried about the spread of "nuisance species" that often piggyback unseen from state to state on other animals, boats or in water.

The invasive zebra mussel, for instance, spread rapidly in the Great Lakes area in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The mussel, which packs tightly with other members of its family, has clogged water supply systems and industrial operations and may affect the biological systems where it finds a home.

Though the zebra mussel has not been found in Wyoming waters, Stone said his office is concerned that the mussel seems to be moving west, and has probably traveled along the state's highways.

"It certainly is a threat for us," Stone said.

Fishery managers are also looking at the threat of parasites and diseases in the Midwest and Southeast, including a large-mouth bass virus and a yellow perch parasite that could make it to Wyoming through imported fish.

This year the state won't be stocking a number of those fish, including northern pike, tiger muskie, channel catfish and sturgeon. About 30 fisheries in the state are stocked with out-of-state fish.

The only exceptions to the moratorium will be walleye and gizzard shad stockings that come from "low risk sources" in Nebraska and North Dakota and end up in Wyoming's Glendo, Keyhole and Goldeneye reservoirs.

Trout raised in Wyoming hatcheries also will not be affected.

"In essence, we're calling a timeout ... as a conservative safeguard to help protect the fishing we currently have," Stone said. "In the interim, we'll be analyzing all our sources of these species and have a comprehensive stocking program ready for 2003."

There are a number of fish health tests to certify if hatchery-raised trout or salmon are disease-free. But similar tests are not available for other fish, Stone said.

"I'm not implying that any of the individual sources have been a problem," Stone said. "We just want to ensure that we don't unknowingly end up with something we don't want."

In the coming year, Stone said, Game and Fish employees will be trained on how to examine fish production facilities and learn strategies for reducing the risk of importing unwanted animals and diseases.

State workers recently learned about gizzard shad from Nebraska, Stone said. They took a fish from the production facility and brought it back to Wyoming to look for dangerous pathogens.

Wyoming may look at taking similar measures before bringing other fish across the borders.

"The key is going to be developing a handle on the level of risk. If it's an unacceptable risk, we won't get them from that source," Stone said.

Because the department usually stocks fish that are fingerling-size or smaller, Stone said he doesn't expect the one-year break to reduce fishing opportunities.

"Missing just one age class will hardly be noticed by anglers in the future," he said.

Chip Andrews, manager of North Fork Anglers in Cody, said he doesn't expect the moratorium to affect fishing in northwest Wyoming. Though there are a few stocked warm-water fisheries in the region, most locals and visitors come for the cold waters and native species

"It's not going to have much of an effect," he said. "Around here, most of the fish are wild."

Mike Stark can be reached at (307)527-7250 or at mstark@billingsgazette.com.
 

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