- Associated Press - Monday, August 22, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Wildlife workers will conduct tests on fish from additional areas of Montana to determine the extent of a disease blamed in a massive fish kill along the Yellowstone River, officials said Monday.

The state closed a 183-mile stretch of the river to all recreational activities on Friday after thousands of dead fish washed up along the river’s banks in the Paradise Valley area north of Yellowstone National Park.

Biologists are trying to determine if a parasite that’s blamed for the deaths has infected fish further downstream and in several major tributaries. Those tributaries also were closed under the order from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Crews will be collecting fish throughout the week on the Yellowstone downstream of Springdale and on three tributaries - the Shields, Boulder and Stillwater rivers, said Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Andrea Jones.

Results of laboratory tests are expected within a few days of collection.

The river’s closure during the busy summer season dealt a major blow to fishing guides, fly shops, rafting companies and others who work in the region’s thriving outdoors industry.

So far, most of the fish killed have been whitefish. Few have been trout, a highly prized species among many anglers.

Dozens of independent outfitters depend heavily on the trout fishery in the Yellowstone, charging clients up to $500 a day for a guided float trip, said Leslie Feigel, executive director for the Livingston Chamber of Commerce.

Some of those guides can take their clients to other rivers if they have the proper permits, but that’s not the case for everyone, she said. If the fish kill had happened in June, the consequences would have been far worse, Feigel added.

“It’s happening at the end of August, so at least there was somewhat of a season,” she said.

Gov. Steve Bullock planned to visit the river Tuesday, state officials said.

A community meeting on the closure and fish kill was scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Park County Fairgrounds in Livingston.

Jones said members of the public want to know when the river will open.

“That’s something we can’t say, but we can help them understand why it is closed to this extent,” she said.

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