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Montana officials decided Thursday to delay a cap on commercially-guided trips down the Madison River, pushing its effective date back a year.

On a 4-1 vote, Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a change to administrative rules that delays the date when new Madison River commercial use caps become law. Patrick Byorth, who represents southwest Montana, was the lone commissioner who opposed the rule change.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, outfitters will be capped at the number of Madison River trips they led in 2019 or 2020 — whichever number is higher for the outfitter.

Commissioners originally set the enforcement date for commercial use caps at Jan. 1, 2022 as part of a Madison River Recreation Plan. The plan was approved to address conflict between anglers, crowding on the Madison River and angling pressure on fish.

Byorth said at the meeting on Thursday that he saw very little support for the rule change in the public comments he reviewed. A little over half of the 12 written and verbal comments the department collected were in opposition to the delay.

“Kicking this can down the road, especially in a year like this where our fishery is going to be more and more stressed — I think it’s a dangerous thing,” he said. “I’m opposed to moving the date ahead.”

Vice Chair Pat Tabor said the new rule isn’t “kicking the can down the road.” The change provides a newly-formed Madison River Commercial Use Work Group an opportunity to look at Madison River rules holistically instead of taking a piecemeal approach, he said.

Commissioner KC Walsh, who is set to preside over the new work group, said nothing prevents the group’s members from implementing the rule change earlier than 2023, as long as they can get the work done.

“My concern is that we’re going to be trying to host meetings with fishing outfitters in the middle of the peak of their season,” he said.

The new Madison River Commercial Use Work Group consists of 12 commission-appointed members each set to serve three-year terms. The commission on Thursday appointed 11 members.

Officials appointed three permitted Madison River outfitters, three non-commercial Madison River users, two people with Madison Valley business interests, one person trained in natural resource management, one commissioner and one at-large member to serve on the new committee.

One Bureau of Land Management representative will also serve on the work group.

Mike Bias of the Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana, Montana Outfitter Fly Fishing owner Brian McGeehan and John Sampson of Ruby Springs Lodge are the commercial outfitters approved to serve on the work group.

Non-commercial river users Zach Brown, Richard Gockel and Allison Treloar were also approved along with business owners Daniel Larson and Christopher Dimichele.

Mac Minard, the executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, will serve as the committee’s natural resources specialist. Jim Hart is the committee’s at-large member. Walsh is the commissioner.

Work group members must develop recommendations for allocating commercial trips to outfitters, giving permits to new outfitters and establishing consequences for permit violations, among other responsibilities.

Commissioners at a meeting in April proposed delaying the enforcement date for the commercial-use caps to give the committee members more time to create a new allocation system for guided trips.

Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, said on Thursday that it’s time for the commission to put some decisions in place on the Madison River, and he strongly disagrees with delaying a years-long process.

“This decision again asks the question of what this agency is managing for. Is it managing for the public fisheries resource or commercial opportunity?” he said. “It’s our position that the responsibility is to manage for all Montanans.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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