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Bill would give Montana walleyes native status.

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Legislation aimed at giving Montana walleyes native species status has drawn praise from walleye anglers and fire from trout fans. Introduced by Republican Sen. Don Steinbeisser, the measure would declare Sander vitreus a native wildlife species, meaning it historically occurred in Montana.

Such a designation could mean enhanced fishery management, though the state already classifies walleye as a gamefish and stocks them in a number of state lakes. In 2008, 15.5 million walleye fry and 2 million fingerlings were released in Fort Peck Reservoir alone. Still, if a native species like trout is in jeopardy, non-natives (as walleyes are currently classified) may be eliminated to protect it.

According to the Montana Natural Heritage Program, operated by the University of Montana, there are conflicting opinions among experts as to whether the walleye is native to Montana or not. Part of the controversy hinges on records dating back to the summer of 1805, when Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery failed to capture walleyes in the waters of what would become Montana.

But the walleye is indigenous to the Mississippi and Missouri river systems, and classified by the U.S. Geological Survey as native to neighboring Wyoming and North and South Dakota. Bob Gilbert, executive director of Walleyes Unlimited Montana, believes "walleyes were here all the time." Spokespersons for the Montana chapter of Trout Unlimited disagree, fearing that to classify walleyes as natives could ultimately hurt the state's trout. So far, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission has not taken a position either way. At press time the bill was tabled; for updates visit the Montana Legislature website at: leg.mt.gov.
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Title Annotation:LEGISLATIVE WATCH
Publication:Walleye In-Sider
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U8MT
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:274
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