Exemption of fish ponds from licensing fought

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
8 February 2007, at 12:00am

MONTANA - Fears that unmanaged fish ponds in the state could be breeding grounds for fish-related diseases prompted testimony against a bill Tuesday in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

As proposed, House Bill 439 would exempt some owners of private fish ponds from state licensing requirements. Right now, all 2,500 private fish ponds in the state are required to have a $10 license that is valid for 10 years. Pond owners must also purchase game fish, such as rainbow trout, from state-approved hatcheries. Annually, the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks receives applications for about 100 new fish ponds.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman. Koopman said that under current law, even a goldfish pond in downtown Bozeman is required to be licensed. His bill would exempt waters that do not exceed 50 acres, don't drain into other waters or where there is no chance that fish may escape to nearby waters.

"Farm ponds are just great," Koopman said. People who own "private ponds on private property shouldn't be considered lawbreakers."

Mark Aagenes, of Montana Trout Unlimited, testified against the bill.

"Fish ponds are bad for Montana," he said. Aagenes said they increase the chance of "bucket biology," where fish are transplanted to public waters illegally, and are breeding grounds for ailments such as whirling disease.

Ponds are better breeding grounds for whirling disease, said Chris Smith, chief of staff for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, due to their warmer water, and their muddy bottoms where hosts for the disease thrive. However, he added he was only aware of one documented incident of fish escaping a private pond and had no knowledge of whirling disease being transported from a private pond.

Molly Immen, of Montana Audubon, said the licensing requirement is a prime opportunity to provide education materials on private ponds to the public and prevents the introduction of exotic species as well as diseased fish.

No action was taken on the bill.