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Official: Yellowstone River fish consumption advisory extends indefinitely

By Phil Van Pelt,


Fishing in the Yellowstone River is something thousands enjoy every year. But if you catch a fish anywhere between the Indian Fort fishing access and the bridge in Laurel on Highway 212, do not eat it.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks advised people earlier this week to not eat any fish caught on the more than 40-mile stretch of river, after various polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) were detected in several species.

"Anytime you hear something, like you know, ‘there could be a problem with the fish and don’t eat them', then you know, there could be a problem," said Lyle Courtnage, president of the Magic City Fly Fishers on Thursday.

The advisory wasn't unexpected according to Courtnage.

"It doesn’t surprise us to start with. When they had that spill, everybody was wondering what that was. And it’s pretty crazy stuff, when you have asphalt floating to the bottom," added Courtnage.

Chrissy Webb is the communications and education manager for Fish, Wildlife and Parks region 5 and says at this point she says it’s unclear when the advisory will be lifted.

"As of right now we don’t know where those PAHs are coming from. There’s a range of different materials that exist both naturally and are man-made that have PAHs in them," said Webb Thursday.

But environmentalists say if the hydrocarbons detected are from the spill, the advisory could extend for be years.

"Aromatic hydrocarbons remain in water for a long, long time sometimes decades," said Scott Bosse, the Northern Rockies director for American Rivers on Thursday.

Bosse has a lot of experience working with oil spill cleanups in his career and he agrees hydrocarbons do naturally occur in rock formations along the river. However, he believes the derailment is the most likely culprit.

"Logically, one would think these fish would show signs of those contaminants due to the train derailment and spill," added Bosse.

FWP will continue to test fish, but the state acknowledges it could be some time before fish in the Yellowstone are safe to eat.

A derailment with potentially lasting impacts for years to come.

"We would plan to lift it when we get a sample that shows these PAHs are at a level that's safe for humans to consume again," Webb said.

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