Invasive Smallmouth Bass Found Near Yellowstone, Could Endanger Local Wildlife
On Feb. 19, a Montana State University student reported that they had caught one smallmouth bass in the Gardner River, right outside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
The person who caught the smallmouth bass uploaded a clip of them catching the fish to YouTube.
Todd Koel, Yellowstone’s supervisory fisheries biologist, said that they will be analyzing the water along the Gardner River over the next few months to determine if there are any smallmouth bass DNA present.
In emails obtained by WyoFile, sent to various federal and state fisheries, biologists, and conservationists, the emails included the subject line "Invasive Predatory Smallmouth Bass Caught from the Gardner River."
The Montana Wildlife, Fish, and Parks Department put out a press release on March 9 about the presence of smallmouth bass in the Gardner River, with two smallmouth bass being seen in the past seven years.
Koel said they changed fishing regulations in Yellowstone to require anyone who catches smallmouth bass to kill it instead of putting it back into the water.
"From an enforcement perspective, it'd be pretty hard to enforce unless someone saw it happen," Koel said. "But that's not so much the point as it is we just want our regulations to match our management goals for the park...They're quite different from trout. They have spines on their back, like hard spines on their back, like a perch or a walleye. And so it'll be the only fish in the park that has hard spines, they look quite a bit different than a trout."
If smallmouth does make it into the park, Koel said because they are predatory, they could attack the native trout and damage the local ecosystem.
"They'll definitely be preying upon trout for one, our native cutthroat trout for one...They're surface feeders so their eyes are on the top of their heads, so they're predatory on animals that are on the surface of the water like ducklings or snake or adult frogs or mice, anything on the surface, they're gonna hit it," Koel said. "So that's a whole different type of fish predatory for us in Yellowstone if they become established, which hopefully they won't."
Yellowstone already has a program in place to try eliminating lake trout in the park, killing around 300,000 a year, and Koel said they would need to institute different methods of eliminating smallmouth bass if they see that kind of presence.
"The smallmouth bass, on their own, can't swim to Yellowstone Lake. So if they do get into the park, it'll be in the river system, like the Yellowstone River, the Lamar River, things like that," Koel said. "In those systems, you can't do netting the way we do on Yellowstone Lake, it's a totally different habitat. In river systems a lot of the time their flowing pretty strong, so you can't really put nets in a large river like Yellowstone. It's an advantage to the non-native species, you're limited to what you can do to remove them."