Posted: Friday, February 19, 2016 10:31 am | Updated: 5:22 pm, Fri Feb 19, 2016.
By SAM WILSON/Daily Inter Lake
The owners of a Missoula-based film company were issued 38 state and 11 federal citations for violating bull trout regulations and filming illegally in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Zach and Travis Boughton, the owners of Montana Wild, and their associate Anthony Von Ruden were fined a total of $5,950 in a plea agreement announced Thursday by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Missoula Wild produced fishing films in and around the Bob Marshall Wilderness that showed the company’s employees illegally fishing for bull trout, a federally protected species.
State citations were issued for intentionally fishing for bull trout in closed waters, failing to immediately release bull trout and failing to report a bull trout on a Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bull Trout Catch Card.
The federal citations were for unlawful commercial filming on U.S. Forest Service lands without valid permits. No commercial filming is allowed in the wilderness.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks Warden Capt. Lee Anderson said Friday that fishing for bull trout is allowed on the main stem of the South Fork Flathead River, but anglers must obtain a free catch card first.
“What I would be worried about is if we can’t show we can control the fishing back there to where it doesn’t overly impact the bull trout, the ramifications could be that we aren’t allowed to have this experimental fishery,” Anderson said. “It is still a fish that is on the endangered species list as threatened.”
He added the case is one of just a handful in which wildlife officials have been able to prove that bull trout weren’t caught accidentally.
“We run into guys all the time that are fishing maybe with a bigger streamer,” he said. “You might think they’re fishing for bull trout, but they could also be catching cutthroat.”
A news release from Fish, Wildlife and Parks states that investigators seized five computers, 13 hard drives and two cellphones from Montana Wild, uncovering more than 2,200 videos of a July 2013 fishing trip along the South Fork and in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The Boughtons and Von Ruden were filmed intentionally fishing in tributaries to the South Fork including White River and Youngs, Big Salmon and Little Salmon creeks.
The footage included multiple instances of anglers over-handling the bull trout for up to 12 minutes after they were caught, causing potential injury to the fish.
Footage included a bull trout being caught, netted, handled and released with the hook still attached for underwater filming. The fish was then netted and handled again.
“When you handle some of these fish for 10 minutes and things like that ... they swim off, but that’s really tough on them and there’s a good chance those fish could die,” Lee said.
Included among the video evidence was a teaser on the company’s website for an upcoming film to be introduced at the Fly Fishing Film Tour in Missoula.
Additional bull trout violations occurred on the North Fork, Blackfoot River and Spotted Bear River.
“The regulation is very easy to follow,” Lee said. “You know if you’re fishing for bull trout.”