By Jim Lukens
Idaho Department of Fish and Game
While most anglers are still focused on steelhead fishing, some are turning their attention to chinook salmon fishing.
Biologists are predicting a return of hatchery fish in adequate numbers to support a fishery in the upper Salmon River. Similar to last year, fishing will likely be restricted to the area below Ellis due to a poor predicted return to Sawtooth Hatchery.
Some anglers and local merchants have asked why we don't open more of the river to fishing below the town of Salmon. This is a rather complicated issue but I will attempt an explanation.
The fishery is what biologists term a mixed stock fishery, composed of protected fish listed under the Endangered Species Act, the wild chinook, and non-protected salmon, the hatchery component, which anglers can harvest. When predicted numbers of returning hatchery fish exceed spawning needs, a season can be considered.
NOAA Fisheries Service, the federal agency responsible for the management of listed salmon, issues Fish and Game a permit to conduct mixed stock fisheries.
Part of this permit is a limited allowed "take" of listed fish. While wild fish must be released, some of these fish will die and this constitutes "take."
Biologists monitor the fishery closely to ensure that hatchery fish are not overharvested, and that we don't exceed the allowed "take" of wild fish. Another part of the permit specifies the portion of the river in which a mixed stock fishery can occur. This year the Fish and Game has a revised permit which allows us to extend the fishery to more river area.
Biologists are studying the possibility of extending the fishery to the area below Salmon, possibly down to North Fork. The risk of including this area is that anglers may encounter some Lemhi River fish, which are all wild, listed fish. This could increase "take" of these fish and jeopardize the entire fishery.
If we decide to include more river area open to fishing, all reasonable measures will be taken to minimize the "take" of wild fish. Biologists will continue to monitor the status of fish destined for the upper Salmon River using Snake and Columbia river dam counts and computer modeling.
Specific recommendations will be presented to the Fish and Game Commission, and the commissioners will set the season during their May meeting.
Jim Lukens is regional supervisor for the Salmon Region.