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NW Fishletter #388, Dec. 3, 2018
 Lawsuit Prompts Suspension Of Idaho's Steelhead Fishing
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted Nov. 14 to suspend steelhead fishing season on Dec. 7 after six groups filed a notice they intend to sue the state for opening a season on hatchery steelhead without a federal Endangered Species Act permit allowing incidental take of wild steelhead.
In a news release, Idaho Fish and Game says it has not had a federal permit since 2010, when it unsuccessfully applied for renewal. Since then, the state has coordinated with federal agencies to operate a steelhead fishing season each year under the same rules as its prior permit that includes the release of wild fish. Idaho says a new permit to allow a hatchery steelhead fishing season is pending, and it intends to reopen steelhead fishing in 2019.
Fish and Game officials met with the organizations that threatened to sue, but no agreement was reached, the agency says.
The groups, led by The Conservation Angler, claim that fishing for hatchery steelhead sometimes results in death or injury to wild steelhead, which are facing "critically low" returns. They cite an Idaho Fish and Game estimation that almost 3 percent of wild steelhead die after they are caught and released.
Idaho agrees, but says those impacts are minimal, and do not jeopardize long-term recovery of wild steelhead populations. About 85 percent of wild steelhead spawning and rearing habitat is regularly closed to fishing, the agency says.
In August, Washington and Oregon closed sections of the main stem Columbia River to fishing to protect steelhead runs returning to the Snake River, and reduced the daily catch limit to one hatchery fish on the Snake River. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says steelhead fishing on the Snake River in Washington remains open.
In a letter to steelhead anglers, Idaho Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said the agency recognizes the importance of steelhead fishing to Idaho fishermen and local economies. He also said the state is committed to recovering wild steelhead, but closing the fishery is unnecessary.
"The commission did not want to go to federal court, lose on a technicality because the federal agency dropped the ball on permit renewal, and have our anglers' and hunters' license dollars pay bills for advocacy-group lawyers instead of conservation," the letter states. -K.C. Mehaffey
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