We can’t ignore effect of climate change on fishing and fishing-related businesses in Montana

Robin Cunningham, Dan Vermillion and Ed Tompkins

As Montanans we live close to the land. Our unique way of life is directly tied to the quality of our land, water, fish and wildlife, and we count on cold, clean waters and an abundance of trout for our livelihoods. We can say with certainty that climate change has begun to reduce our outfitting, guiding, and related business opportunities. 

Each year guides, outfitters, fly shop owners, restaurants, hotels and their employees watch Montanan’s snow pack anxiously. In an ever-increasing number of years, Montanans are confronted with low snowpack, warm temperatures, smoky skies, and severely curtailed fishing opportunities. In 2015, fishermen and women who traveled to Montana were forced to stop fishing at 2 p.m. to prevent fish mortality caused by unnaturally warm water temperatures. As this begins to happen more regularly, fishermen are reluctant to visit Montana in late July and August, and Montana’s already short season of opportunity becomes even shorter. 

No one who spends time on the water can deny that climate change has already begun to reduce fishing outfitting and guiding opportunities as well as income for guides and other fishing-dependent businesses. We can’t ignore the increasing effect climate change has on our industry. 

Additionally, as waters warm, there are reports of also seeing warm-water species moving into traditionally cold-water fisheries. In the past year, anglers were catching smallmouth bass in Livingston. If we do not address climate change, we will eventually see smallmouth bass in Yellowstone Park. Bass should be caught in warm-water fisheries. They should not be crowding out our trout, which make Montana’s fisheries the envy of the world. 

It is not only our world-renowned rivers on the line. Many Montanans and visitors enjoy chasing wild trout in our high-country lakes. As our alpine snowpack declines, these lakes are losing the steady flow of fresh, ice-cold, meltwater on which they depend. Some of our favorite clear, turquoise waters full of rising cutthroats are already turning into pea-green algae soup.  The fish populations that reside in them will undoubtedly suffer, if they can survive at all.

There is an economic price to these new realties. Last month the Montana Wildlife Federation released a report outlining the economic impacts climate change will have on Montana’s outdoor economy. According to the report, 11,000 jobs and $281 million is at stake if we don’t begin to take climate action seriously. For the fishing and angling industry, this will mean a 33 percent reduction in viable fishing days, 1,800 jobs lost, and $49 million lost in labor earnings. 

The need for climate action in Montana is real and it is urgent if we wish to remain a destination place for world-class fly-fishing. Too much is at stake if we don’t begin to tackle the threat of climate change. We encourage our elected officials to take climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions seriously, so we can preserve not only what makes this state so special, but also the thousands of jobs that rely on our outdoor economy.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Robin Cunningham, of Gallatin Gateway, is the executive director of the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana (FOAM), representing more than 750 fellow outfitter and guide members. Dan Vermillion is an outfitter and lodge owner in Livingston, and chairman of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. Ed Tompkins, of Bozeman, is a professional financial advisor, served as an Army infantry officer, and is part owner of Bozeman Reel Company.