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Idaho Allows Limited
Steelhead Season

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, September 2, 2021

Shutting down the harvest of hatchery steelhead has a downside
-- more of those fish may survive and spawn with wild fish.

Snake River Steelhead Triggers Early Warning Indicator, NOAA is trying to ignore that fact. Assured by fisheries managers that what is looking like one of the smallest steelhead returns on record will be just big enough to allow fishing, Idaho Fish and Game commissioners cut bag limits for the sea-run trout Wednesday but left the season open.

The seven-member board unanimously approved a recommendation from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game that reduces the bag limit from three hatchery steelhead per day to one per day on the Snake, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers and from two per day to one on the Clearwater River downstream of Memorial Bridge.

Fisheries Bureau Chief Lance Hebdon told commissioners the run, while extremely low, is projected to be just big enough to meet spawning goals at hatcheries on the Snake and Salmon rivers and to provide a slim surplus of hatchery fish for anglers.

He also said the return of wild steelhead that are protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act are tracking above the "critical abundance threshold" -- a number that needs to be met for fishing to occur. The threshold is about 6,300 total wild fish for the Snake River and its tributaries. The latest forecast is projecting a return of 9,781 wild Snake River steelhead, as measured at Ice Harbor Dam. But that threshold is made up of smaller thresholds for returns to individual rivers. The threshold for the Salmon River is 2,900 and the projected return of wild fish there is just 2,850.

"While the Salmon River is very close, we are forecasting we will be above it," he said.

Hebdon noted that in low run years when there are reduced bag limits, fishing pressure tends to decline dramatically. The agency is projecting a total of 21 wild steelhead could be incidentally killed during the fishing season.

Through Tuesday, 36,452 steelhead had been counted at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. That is the lowest July 1-to-Aug. 31 count ever recorded there. Fisheries managers in the Columbia Basin recently upgraded their forecast for A-run steelhead to 42,600. That is up from the forecast of 35,000 they delivered last week but still far below the preseason forecast of 89,200.

Ed Schriever, director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said last week it was looking like the agency might not meet its hatchery spawning goals and managers were considering "more draconian" actions than bag limit reductions. But since then, steelhead counts have increased.

"Within the last week, we have seen a little bit of encouragement at Bonneville, and those A-run fish are showing up later than we have ever seen them show up," he said.

Commissioner Don Ebert, of Weippe, received letters asking him to vote to close the season. He said shutting down the harvest of hatchery steelhead has a downside -- more of those fish may survive and spawn with wild fish. In most cases, fisheries managers don't want wild steelhead and hatchery steelhead to mix on spawning grounds. They believe the hatchery fish can dilute the genetic traits that help wild fish survive.

"In some respects, you are better off to have the fisheries," Ebert said. "I think the (harvest) impacts on wild fish is very low."

Fish and Game managers did not propose a bag limit change on the Clearwater River above Memorial Bridge, nor for its tributaries. The bag limit there is two hatchery steelhead per day, starting Oct. 15.

Last week, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said it would likely close steelhead fishing on the Snake River from its mouth to Clarkston. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed stretches of the Deschutes, John Day, Walla Walla and Umatilla rivers to steelhead fishing. Both agencies said last week they were in talks with Idaho fisheries managers to make sure regulations are concurrent on stretches of the Snake River where the states share jurisdiction.

On Wednesday, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved a coho fishing season on the Snake River from its confluence with the Clearwater River to Hells Canyon Dam. The season allows anglers to target steelhead bound for the Lostine River in northeastern Oregon.

Related Pages:
Amid Poor Runs, Idaho Officials Propose Limited Steelhead Harvest by Eric Barker, Lewiston Tribune, 8/31/21
Spring Offers Big Steelhead Fishing Opportunities in Smaller Rivers by Idaho Fish & Game, EIN Presswire, 2/18/21
Steelhead Closure Extended In Eastern Oregon by Staff, KXI, 12/26/19
Steelhead Closure Extended on Columbia River by Staff, The Astorian, 12/23/19
Limited Steelhead Season Approved by Eric Barker, Moscow-Pulmman Daily News, 12/19/19

Eric Barker
Idaho Allows Limited Steelhead Season
Lewiston Tribune, September 2, 2021

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