This Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, photo shows dead whitefish floating in the Yellowstone River near Emigrant, Mont. Montana wildlife officials closed a stretch of the river and numerous tributaries after a massive fish kill that is blamed on a contagious parasite. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

This Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, photo shows dead whitefish floating in the Yellowstone River near Emigrant, Mont. Montana wildlife officials closed a stretch of the river and numerous tributaries after a massive fish kill that is blamed on a contagious parasite. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

More tests set for Yellowstone, tributaries after fish deaths

BILLINGS, Mont. — Wildlife workers will conduct tests on fish from additional areas of Montana to determine the extent of a disease blamed in a massive fish kill along the Yellowstone River, officials said Monday.

The state indefinitely closed a 183-mile stretch of the river to all recreational activities on Friday after thousands of dead fish washed up along the river’s banks in the Paradise Valley area north of Yellowstone National Park.

Biologists are trying to determine if the little-understood parasite that’s blamed for the deaths has infected fish further downstream and in several major tributaries. Those tributaries also were closed under the order from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Crews will be collecting fish throughout the week on the Yellowstone downstream of Springdale and on three tributaries — the Shields, Boulder and Stillwater rivers, said Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Andrea Jones.

Results of laboratory tests are expected within a few days of collection. The parasite at issue causes infected fish to develop proliferative kidney disease. Warm water temperatures and low river levels have worsened the problem by stressing the Yellowstone’s fish populations and making them more prone to dying.

The river’s closure during the busy summer season dealt a major blow to fishing guides, fly shops, rafting companies and others who work in the region’s thriving outdoors industry.

Officials have warned the closure could last for weeks or even months. It’s intended to prevent the parasite from spreading to other waterways via contaminated boats, fishing waders or other gear.

However, state officials have acknowledged the order is all but impossible to enforce and they’re counting heavily on voluntary compliance. The order did not apply to Yellowstone National Park.

Eric Burge of Livingston was among those forced to change plans, prematurely ending what was to have been a multi-day float trip down the river. As he washed down his raft with a washcloth, Burge said he was disappointed but was “here for the long haul.”

“I love this river and am happy to take off it and put back on another day when there’s not a potential to damage other waterways,” he said.

So far, most of the fish killed have been whitefish. Few have been trout, a highly prized species among many anglers.

Dozens of independent outfitters depend on the trout fishery in the Yellowstone, charging clients up to $500 a day for a guided float trip, said Leslie Feigel, executive director for the Livingston Chamber of Commerce.

Some of those guides can relocate to rivers outside the closure area if they have the proper permits, but that’s not the case for everyone, she said.

If the fish kill had happened in June, the consequences would have been far worse, Feigel added.

Gov. Steve Bullock planned to visit the river Tuesday, state officials said.

A community meeting on the closure and fish kill was scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Park County Fairgrounds in Livingston.

Jones said members of the public want to know when the river will open.

“That’s something we can’t say, but we can help them understand why it is closed to this extent,” she said.

A dead whitefish floats belly up near the Mayors Landing Fishing Access in the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Mont. on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016.  Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates the fish kill to be in the tens of thousands and issued a closure of all water-based recreation on the Yellowstone from the Yellowstone National Park's northern boundary to Laurel, according to a press release. FWP lab results reveal the catalyst of the kill to be Proliferative Kidney Disease ' one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout.   (/Livingston Enterprise via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

A dead whitefish floats belly up near the Mayors Landing Fishing Access in the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Mont. on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates the fish kill to be in the tens of thousands and issued a closure of all water-based recreation on the Yellowstone from the Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary to Laurel, according to a press release. FWP lab results reveal the catalyst of the kill to be Proliferative Kidney Disease ‘ one of the most serious diseases to impact whitefish and trout. (/Livingston Enterprise via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

This Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, photo shows the Yellowstone River near Pray, Mont. The normally-busy waterway has been closed to fishing, boating and all other activities after a contagious parasite caused a massive fish kill. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

This Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, photo shows the Yellowstone River near Pray, Mont. The normally-busy waterway has been closed to fishing, boating and all other activities after a contagious parasite caused a massive fish kill. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

More in News

Float of ducks off Pt. Louisa with Eagle Peak, on Admiralty National Monument around dusk in Juneau winter.
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Reader-submitted photos of Southeast Alaska.

FILE - Participants wave signs as they walk back to Orlando City Hall during the March for Abortion Access on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.  State-by-state battles over the future of abortion in the U.S. are setting up across the country as lawmakers in Republican-led states propose new restrictions modeled on laws passed in Texas and Mississippi even as some Democratic-controlled states work to preserve access.  (Chasity Maynard/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)
With Roe in doubt, states act on abortion limits, expansions

“This could be a really, really dramatic year…”

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Friday, Jan. 21

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

Ted Nordgaarden of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation imitates the gesture made by the defendant during the trial of a man charged with killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Screenshot)
Investigator testifies as trial concludes second week

The jury watched video of the defendant’s initial interview in custody.

Peter Segall/Juneau Empire
One of the last cruise ships of the 2021 season docks in Juneau on Oct. 20, 2021. Local operators say it’s too early to know how the upcoming cruise season will unfold, but they’re cautiously optimistic.
Smooth sailing for the 2022 season?

Cautious optimism reigns, but operators say it’s too early to tell.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

Most Read