Montana State University

MSU fisheries scientists evaluating ecological impact of Yellowstone River oil spill

July 5, 2011

Research data that MSU scientists gathered earlier about fish in the Yellowstone River, such as a pallid sturgeon fry, will help state and federal environmental officials assess the impact of the recent oil spill in the environmentally sensitive Yellowstone River. Photo provided by Al Zale.    High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Montana State University fisheries scientists are assisting state and federal environmental officials in assessing the impact of Friday's oil spill in the environmentally sensitive Yellowstone River.

More than 750 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River when a pipeline beneath the river broke creating a plume of oil that has already traveled more than 270 miles downriver into North Dakota, according Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.

Biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks are being provided data on fish diversity and abundances collected by university scientists earlier this summer and in previous years. Ongoing sampling will document any changes to the river that may have occurred as a result of the oil spill. University biologists will provide FWP with GPS locations of sick turtles and fish, as well as document obvious fish kills if any are found.

"We have been conducting research for many years examining species of fish inhabiting the Yellowstone River," said Al Zale, an ecology professor at MSU and unit leader of the Montana Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, a cooperative effort between MSU, USGS, and FWP.

"In the weeks and months ahead, we will be looking for any unusual changes in the river's natural environment and any impacts on the species of fish we would expect to find at this time of year," Zale said. "Some species or ages of fish may be more susceptible to this type of pollution than others."

The">Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit is in the MSU Department of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife Management Program.

Research at the Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit provides agencies with useful and practical information needed to understand and manage fishery resources in the Rocky Mountains and northern Great Plains. Technical areas of special emphasis include whirling disease, native fish species restoration and management, large-river fish assemblages, sport fishery management, and regulated-river and reservoir fisheries.

Al Zale (406) 994-2380,