New study predicts dire future for Montana trout fishermen | Hatch magazine

There’s good news and bad news for Montana anglers and residents. The good news? According to a new study by the US Geological Survey, published Sept. 7 in the journal Science Advances, as drought and climate change affect the Treasure State’s fantastic trout waters, anglers are responding by changing their fishing habits and spreading fishing pressure around. to waters that are more elastic. The bad news? It’s likely to be a short-term fix, and climate change will probably take a heavier toll – it’s not getting any colder out there. Over time, even a change in fishing behavior will not be enough to keep climate change from affecting more Montana rivers and streams.

Result? Montana will lose about 35 percent of its existing habitable trout water by 2080, the study predicts. Not only is that bad news for anglers, who value Montana as a trophy destination, but it would result in the loss of nearly $200 million in state revenue. This is the first time, according to the study’s authors, that any climate-related study involving fish and fisheries has considered the economic impacts of climate change on fisheries.

“Although these climate changes may have important ecological impacts on freshwater fisheries, how these dynamics affect the reliability of fishing opportunities and associated incomes has never been empirically assessed,” it says. study.

In Montana, fly fishing is responsible for 20 percent of all tourism revenue, the study authors say, which totals more than $750 million annually. And that economic value is largely driven by non-resident anglers visiting Montana as a fishing destination, spending almost $700 per day while there. Montana resident anglers spend just $90 a day when they go fishing, study says.

“The cold-water fisheries that support this significant tourism industry may be at risk as this region warmed at twice the global average rate over the past century, contributing to warmer water temperatures, lower summer runoff and increasing frequency and severity of drought events. “, says the study. “These climate changes are shifting the abundance and distribution of trout species across the region. The combined effects of these climate changes could significantly affect popular trout fisheries by displacing fish and fishermen across space, with potentially severe socio-economic consequences. Therefore, understanding how climate change will affect the social, economic and ecological components of cold water fisheries will be critical to increasing the resilience and adaptation of fisheries and local communities.

The study aims to provide something of a roadmap for future fisheries management. But when global climate models — which have historically been modest in predicting the severity of climate change impacts over the years — predict a 35 percent loss of Montana’s trout water in less than 60 years, it’s not not unreasonable to wonder if it is simply simply too late to do anything meaningful to avoid the worst of what is to come.

In other words, “Are we just drunk here?”

Todd Tanner, Montana resident and executive director of the nonprofit hunting and fishing conservation group Conservation Hawks, notes that the information in the report is not surprising. His group, which works to communicate the climate crisis throughout the sporting community, has always urged anglers, hunters and state and federal fish and game management to pay attention to the science.

“We’ve had the opportunity to do something about climate change for a long time,” he said. “But we just haven’t done it. If our fisheries really mattered, we would have addressed this by now.”

Terrible future for trout fishing in Montana

A figure from the study showing (A) potential shifts in angler expenditures across selected Montana rivers under extreme drought and (B) changes in annual expenditures by anglers in response to coldwater habitat losses by 2080 under the A1B emission scenarios.

Tanner cautioned fishermen and economists to take the study’s economic projections with a grain of salt. As dire as they sound, they probably won’t turn out to be accurate, he said.

“Revenue projections are probably not going to be borne out,” he said, noting that past models have been proven wrong — we’re dealing with impacts from climate change now that many scientists predicted were decades away. “Scientists are putting governors on their research and making it safe. The fact that they are saying these things at this specific rate is important, but is it accurate? I doubt it. They say we could lose 35 percent of the trout habitat by 2080—maybe that means we could lose 50 or 60 percent by 2050. I’d like to be wrong, but I don’t think it will. happen.”

Tanner also put the study into perspective. News this week that Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier is hanging “by its fingernails” should prompt worldwide action to curb carbon emissions and slow the impacts of climate change. When the “doomsday glacier” the size of the state of Florida collapses (and it most likely will), global sea levels could rise as much as two feet.

“When coastal cities like New York, Boston and Miami are under water,” Tanner said, “are we really going to care what Montana’s trout fishing is like?”

The study took a look at how climate change has affected Montana’s trout fishery from 1983 to 2017. Not surprisingly, fishing pressure in Montana doubled during that time period—which explains why angling is so important for the state’s overall income from tourism. He also noted that anglers are willing to move a bit — to find waters that couldn’t withstand drought-induced temperature increases or closing the “owl” due to those warm water temperatures — likely why Montana still collects a large chunk of money. by fishermen visiting the state.

But, the study warns, it probably won’t last, at least as long as climate models predict more heat and more drought thanks to global climate change.

“Loss of cold-water habitat is projected to cause widespread economic impacts throughout (Montana), with costs projected to decline in 64 and 76 percent of river sections by 2040 and 2080, respectively,” the study states. .

As Tanner noted, it’s really a matter of listening to scientists and then translating the information they share into action.

“It’s going to be bad,” Tanner said. “I would focus less on the economy and more on the trend line. We have not paid attention in the past, and if this continues, it will probably be worse than they predict. I’m hoping for the best… but I’m not very confident.”

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