As private pond owners look to stock ponds with fish this spring, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a few reminders. A permit from FWP is required to stock fish, and fish can only be stocked from approved commercial sources. In addition, fish shipped from out of state require an import permit.
Pond owners play an important role in keeping Montana’s waterbodies clean and healthy. Stocking private ponds with fish from unauthorized sources increases the risk of introducing disease and Aquatic Invasive Species into Montana waterbodies.
Currently, sources to purchase fish for stocking in Montana are limited, forcing pond owners to look beyond Montana’s borders for fish. Pond owners should be aware that out-of-state hatcheries must meet stringent disease and AIS requirements before fish can be shipped into Montana. An import permit from FWP is required to bring fish from out of state to stock in Montana.
Commercial hatcheries in Montana are inspected annually to minimize the risk of spreading disease and AIS. Out-of-state commercial hatcheries might not meet Montana requirements and run the risk of spreading diseases or AIS that could be present in their regions. Once they are introduced in Montana, they can spread easily to other waters and the resulting damage can be difficult or impossible to reverse.
Illegal species pose a threat to native and recreational fish populations. For example, rainbow trout illegally stocked in a pond in Yellowstone cutthroat trout range could threaten conservation populations of those cutthroat through hybridization. Northern pike could jeopardize native populations of fish in prairie streams through competition and predation. Introduction of species beyond their current range could jeopardize existing sport fisheries composed of both native and nonnative fish.
Failure to secure proper permits for pond stocking can lead to misdemeanor charges and fines from the state and may violate Federal Lacey Act for illegal trade of fish. Additional penalties can include restitution for actions needed to remove illegally stocked fish. Those actions could include physically removing fish with nets, draining or pumping all the water out of the pond, or chemical treatment to kill all the fish in the pond and can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars.
Most pond stocking permits are $10 and are good for 10 years. FWP staff reviews all pond applications and conducts a site visit to determine the potential impacts of stocking the pond and what species are appropriate for stocking. Before ordering fish from out of state, call the FWP Fish Health Lab at 406-452-6181 to apply for an import permit.
Additional information on ponds, including building ponds, permitting for stocking, and purchasing fish can be found on the FWP website at http://fwp.mt.gov/fish/regulations/ponds.html.