This Week in Fish and Wildlife: FWP to conduct new research into Jefferson River system fish decline

Posted at 10:15 AM, Feb 06, 2024

We've talked about it many times—the fish in the Jefferson River system are in trouble, but right now, no one is quite sure why. MTN's Chet Layman talks with Montana FWP about a series of studies that will, beginning this year, to try to answer that question.

BOZEMAN — Fish in the waters of the Jefferson River, formed by the Ruby, Beaverhead, and Big Hole rivers, are struggling. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks begins trying to find out why this year.

“Fish declines and fish health issues that we've been seeing in the Jefferson River basin, which includes the Big Hole, the Beaverhead, and the Ruby rivers, and part of what that conversation led to was setting up some pieces to be able to conduct research this coming year in to those declines, those fish health issues, things like that,” said Morgan Jacobsen, information and education manager for Montana FWP, Region 3.

FWP has hired additional staff to begin that research effort and is partnering with researchers at Montana State University. Jacobsen notes the research that is about to begin has many levels and will begin soon.

“Some of the studies that we're looking at are fish mortality, cause of fish mortality, fish recruitment, where fish are spawning, and how that's contributing to mainstem populations and fish health issues overall,” Jacobsen said.

Another aspect of this year’s research will be looking at how the rivers are used, and that goes beyond the Jefferson River system.

“The Madison River also has a component to that where we will be looking at recreational use on the four rivers; so the Beaverhead, the Big Hole, the Ruby, and the Madison rivers,” said Jacobsen. “So that's some important research that'll be happening this year. We've now got additional staff to help with that, some students in partnership up at Montana State University, and so we'll be getting started here in the next weeks with that research.”

Jacobsen says research teams will begin work in earnest on the rivers as early as March.