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NW Fishletter #389, January 7, 2019
 Idaho Reinstates Steelhead Fishing On Most Rivers
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved an agreement that allows the state's well-known Snake River steelhead season to remain open, except on two large tributaries, after five conservation groups agreed not to sue.
In an interim compromise, the commission agreed on Dec. 7 to close steelhead fishing on large sections of the Salmon River and South Fork of the Clearwater River, while keeping other areas open.
In addition, members of the Idaho River Community Alliance agreed to voluntary fishing restrictions designed to help wild steelhead survive if they're caught and released. The restrictions include keeping wild steelhead in the water while they are being released, using single barbless hooks, and retaining all hatchery steelhead that are captured.
The agreement is in effect until March 15, 2019, or until NOAA Fisheries, through its National Marine Fisheries Service, approves Idaho's steelhead fishing plan under the Endangered Species Act, if that comes sooner.
Commissioners had announced the season would close Dec. 7 after five conservation groups--The Conservation Angler, Friends of the Clearwater, Snake River Waterkeeper, Wild Fish Conservancy and Idaho Rivers United--threatened to sue because the state does not have an incidental take permit for threatened wild steelhead.
Idaho officials said in a news release that they sought to renew its permit in 2010, but a backlog at NMFS delayed approval for years.
NOAA Fisheries reopened public comments for Idaho's Snake River steelhead fishing through Dec. 13, and in a news release said they understand the importance of the steelhead fishing season to anglers, and are focused on completing its review promptly.
Conservation groups say that the Snake River's wild steelhead have been in a steep decline since 2014. David Moskowitz, executive director of The Conservation Angler said in a news release that this year's returns are likely to be the lowest since 1994.
"When we learned that Idaho had been conducting steelhead sportfishing without ESA [Endangered Species Act] authorization, we decided that wild steelhead deserved more protection than Idaho was providing," Moskowitz said.
Idaho's famous wild B-run steelhead, which return to the Clearwater and Salmon river drainages and tend to be larger after spending more time in the ocean, are in most serious trouble, he said. -K.C. Mehaffey
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