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NW Fishletter #387, Nov. 5, 2018

[10] Groups Threaten Lawsuit Over Idaho Steelhead Fishing

Five conservation groups have filed a notice of intent to sue the state of Idaho for opening a fishing season on hatchery steelhead when returns of wild steelhead are "critically low." The groups claim that Washington and Oregon closed their steelhead seasons due to low returns, and are asking Idaho to take immediate action to halt fishing in the Snake River Basin.

The state does not have the proper approval from federal regulators to allow the incidental take of wild steelhead, the groups claim.

On Sept. 3, Idaho issued rules for a steelhead season beginning Oct. 15, allowing anglers to take one hatchery steelhead per day on the Snake and Salmon rivers. The limit was put in place due to poor returns, which, according to a Fish and Game news release, is as low as it's been since 1978. But, "although these returns are poor, enough steelhead are projected to make it back to our hatchery traps to allow some harvest opportunities," the release says. The limit was extended until Dec. 31 in order to reduce harvest on hatchery steelhead and protect wild steelhead, it says.

Groups intending to sue the state are The Conservation Angler, Idaho Rivers United, Wild Fish Conservancy, Snake River Waterkeeper, and Friends of the Clearwater. Their letter was addressed to Idaho Fish and Game officials, its commissioners and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

"One of the main limiting factors in the recovery of Snake River Basin steelhead is harvest, particularly of the B-Index steelhead," the letter states, referring to the B-run steelhead that are generally larger after remaining in the ocean for two years. The groups claim anglers fishing for hatchery steelhead sometimes kill, wound or injure natural-origin steelhead when catching and releasing them. It says that IDFG estimated that 26,816 natural-origin steelhead entered Idaho in the 2014-2015 run, and 16,062 were captured and released during that fishing season. The agency estimated that 2.99 percent of those fish, or 803, died from the catch-and-release activities, according to the letter.

It also says the Idaho steelhead fishery does not currently have an approved Fishery Management and Evaluation Plan covering the incidental take of wild Snake River steelhead, or any other authorization for the steelhead, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. -K.C. Mehaffey

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Publisher/Editor-in-Chief: Mark Ohrenschall, Editor: K.C. Mehaffey
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