MISSOULA – Nearly three-fourths of all Montanans participate in outdoor water recreation activities, but 21 percent of residents were unaware of water closures in 2016 due to invasive aquatic species, according to figures released by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.
Fifty-eight percent of Montana residents 18 and older participate in bank or wade fishing, and 50 percent participate in boat fishing – the two most popular resident water recreation activities. But the introduction of invasive aquatic species into the state’s waterways is challenging Montana’s favorite pastime.
“Our data shows that Montanans love their water and the ability to fish, play and boat on our waterways,” said Norma Nickerson, director of the ITRR. “But what could be a bit alarming is the lack of awareness by some of our residents.”
In August 2016, the PKX parasite killed thousands of Yellowstone River whitefish, prompting a nearly month-long closure, and in November, invasive mussel larvae temporarily closed Tiber Reservoir. Invasive species concerns also prompted precautionary water closures on Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Glacier National Park waterways and on the Blackfeet Reservation in 2016.
An ITRR study that surveyed nearly 12,000 Montanans 18 and older, conducted at gas stations and rest areas throughout the state earlier this year, shows that a surprising number of younger anglers were unaware of these closures.
“When we analyzed the data by age group, it was quite evident that older Montanans were very aware of these invasive species and the closure of waterways, but 47 percent of Montanans between 18 and 25 had not heard of either of the closures this past year, and 30 percent of 26- to 35-year-olds also hadn’t heard of the events,” Nickerson said. “In comparison, only 10 to 11 percent of Montanans 56 and older had not heard of the invasive species and the closures.”
This lack of awareness by younger Montanans is concerning, since the health of Montana waterways dictates the quality of fishing. Reaching the younger age groups through traditional TV, radio and newspaper outlets is likely not working, Nickerson said, and agencies must diversify their communication and education methods. This includes using all forms of social media and working with age-related social leaders with experience using various social media platforms as a conduit for communication.
Without a full understanding and awareness by residents of why these closures happen, spread of the invasive aquatic species is more likely, Nickerson said.