- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

WHITEFISH, Mont. (AP) - Montana Trout Unlimited has doubled to $20,000 the reward it is offering for the apprehension and conviction of whoever is responsible for illegally stocking fish in three western Montana lakes and reservoirs.

The state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is investigating the illegal planting of walleyes in Swan Lake and Noxon Reservoir and smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake.

Montana TU chairman Chris Schustrom says the illegally planted fish threaten established and popular sport fish populations in each body of water. The group is urging FWP to treat illegal fish stocking as a serious wildlife crime and to step up its enforcement and investigation efforts.

FWP spokesman Ron Aasheim says the agency needs tips from the public and he hopes the increased reward encourages someone to come forward.

“We’ve had it with the selfish individuals who have been vandalizing Montana’s lakes and streams by dumping harmful species on top of established and popular populations of sport fish,” said Schustrom.

Sportsman’s groups are offering an estimated $4,000 reward for information on illegal stocking and FWP offers a $1,000 reward through its TIPMONT program.

“There are people who have consistently wanted walleye west of the (Continental) Divide,” Aasheim said, but the state Fish and Wildlife Commission has a policy against it. There are no waterways west of the divide where walleye would complement the existing fishery, he said.

“We’ve got healthy walleye populations on the eastern side,” Aasheim said.

It’s tough to catch the so-called “bucket biologists.”

“It’s not the kind of thing you really brag about,” Aasheim said.

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