About 4,000 fish were found dead in a stretch of the Yellowstone River, allegedly due to the spread of a certain parasite that is contaminating the area and affecting the wildlife.  Park’s authorities decided Friday to close the stretch of the river to reduce the chances of spreading the parasite even further.  The closure extends from Yellowstone to Laurel.

The 175-mile stretch was part of the area used by companies and agencies to perform recreational activities, but the access is limited to avoid people getting in contact with parasites that seems to be dangerous not only to fish but also to humans. It is believed that the parasite can also cause kidney affections.

About 4,000 fish were found dead in a stretch of the Yellowstone River. Photo credit: Helenair.com
About 4,000 fish were found dead in a stretch of the Yellowstone River. Photo credit: Helenair.com

Fishing, wading, floating, and boating are among the activities that are not allowed in the river while the closure is active.

The biggest case of fish killing

Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) have stated that this amount of fish kill has never been seen in Montana before. The magnitude of this issue, both of fish dead as well as in the length of the river affected, makes it an unprecedented situation. The duration of the impact is also relevant since the parasite had managed to survive more than expected in most biological forms similar to it.

Fish affected were mountain whitefish, one of the most common fish in North America. The fish belongs to the Salmonidae family, and it’s a fish that lives in mountain streams, lakes, and cold rivers. Clear cold water is their primary environment and their spawning season is from October to early December, so this parasite is affecting them in a time where the species have not reached its maximum point of reproduction.

FWP officials are now implementing decontamination programs and installing stations to protect the wildlife of Yellowstone, considering that whitefish are essential in this waters. The species has become less abundant and available in rivers, probably as the result of overharvesting, but parasites killing this amount of fish could generate unbalance in the species.

According to the Montana Outdoors magazine, whitefish are relevant to sporting and eating, which is why most visitors go to Montana and explore Yellowstone River, to catch as many whitefish as possible.

Dead fish, dead business

The economy linked to recreational activities and outdoor entertainment, as well as fisheries, are the main subjects affected by the closure. The Yellowstone River sustains a whole network of the local economy, including guided fishing trips, food stores, souvenirs and artifacts’ shops, and other stores that provide services in the National Park.

Business related to tubers and anglers are critically slow since they can’t offer their services to visitors while the area is closed. All destination shops are in a vulnerable situation, and the owners have stated their concerns about the situation, because most businesses depend heavily on the flow of visitors in this time of the year to sustain the business in slow seasons, like winter, although they recognize the importance of the health of the river.

“(The river) Is the lifeblood of our business because we are a destination shop,” said Dan Gigone, the owner of Sweetwater Fly Shop, an agency that dedicates to supply fishers and make guided fishing trips.

Certainly, this time of the year is essential for the economic activity of the area but not closing the stretch might generate the expansion of the parasite, with long lasting effects like killing more fish and affecting the environment irreversibly.

But long-lasting effects could also involve reputational risks for the park since visitors around the world might stop going to that area due to the fragility of the wildlife and the remains of parasites that might affect human health.

Source: NBC Montana