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Groups Issue Notice To Sue Over Steelhead Fishing In Idaho; Say Harming Wild Summer Steelhead
Posted on Friday, October 12, 2018 (PST)

Five environmental groups sent to the Idaho Governor and Idaho fisheries agencies a 60-day notice that they intend to sue, alleging that Idaho is illegally allowing recreational angling for summer steelhead, particularly for the larger wild B-run steelhead. Snake River wild summer steelhead were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1997.


The groups notified Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, as well as officials at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Fish & Game Commission on Oct. 9 their intent to sue for what they say is allowing unauthorized steelhead fishing in Idaho waters.


The Conservation Angler, Wild Fish Conservancy, Snake River Waterkeeper, Friends of the Clearwater and Idaho Rivers United sent the 60-day notice of intent alleging that the state allows “sport fisheries that harm and prevent the recovery of wild Snake River Basin steelhead, including the iconic but critically low wild B-run steelhead.”


According to information from the groups, returns of wild steelhead have been less than 50 percent of the 10-year average in each of the last two years. During that time, Oregon and Washington have closed their steelhead fisheries for the year due to the “perilously low return numbers,” the groups said.


“Idaho’s steelhead and salmon fisheries do not have an approval from federal regulators that authorizes the incidental take of wild Snake River Basin steelhead, nor any other authorization or exemption that protects these ESA-listed wild fish from this fishery.” said David Moskowitz, executive director of The Conservation Angler. “We expect public agencies to obey the laws meant to prevent the extinction of wild steelhead.”


The groups allege that Idaho does not have an approved Fishery Management and Evaluation Plan covering the incidental take of wild Snake River steelhead, nor does Idaho have an FMEP for spring/summer chinook, but that doesn’t cover wild steelhead. In addition, they say, the 2018 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion also does not authorize incidental take of these fish in Idaho.


When asked Wednesday, Virgil Moore, director of IDFG, told the Lewiston Tribune he had yet to see a letter from the groups announcing their intention and couldn’t comment until he has time to review it.


“The Snake River Basin steelhead population consists of two different life history forms of steelhead – the ‘A-run’ steelhead, which spend less time in the marine environment and begin their migration up the Columbia River in late spring and is on-going all summer and fall – and the ‘B-run’ steelhead, which typically remain in the ocean for two years before beginning their migration in the mid-summer and continuing through the fall, winter and early spring,” according to information provided by the groups.


They continued, saying that the B-run steelhead stay in the ocean longer and are generally larger. In general, the two-state Columbia River Compact and the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee which forecasts fish runs in the Columbia River consider A-run steelhead to be less than 29 inches in length, while the B-run are over that length.


“The differences in the two components of the Columbia –Snake River Basin steelhead represent an important component of phenotypic and genetic diversity in this distinct population segment,” the groups said. Most Snake River Basin steelhead populations support both A-run and B-run life history diversity.


The Snake River Basin steelhead DPS, the groups say, is at high risk of becoming inviable and going extinct. They cite a 2015 NOAA Fisheries status review showing that 12 of the 24 natural populations had a “high” overall viability risk, while ten were rated as “maintained.”


“The Clearwater Basin is, or was, internationally famous for its large, B-run steelhead. It would be tragic to lose runs in the Selway River, which has never been influenced by hatchery fish,” said Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director of Friends of the Clearwater.


“This fishery is unacceptable. While we doubt that the federal regulators can or should permit these fisheries, the public interest in the recovery of wild Idaho steelhead at a minimum demands that the State of Idaho comply with all ESA requirements,” said Dr. Nick Gayeski, Wild Fish Conservancy Fisheries Scientist. “The 60-Day Notice is intended to assure that the State complies with the law."


The groups want Idaho to close the sport fishery for all summer steelhead, seek reciprocity with Oregon for angling along the Snake River border, stop recycling hatchery steelhead where they could spawn in the wild (some arrive at hatcheries and are recycled into streams for more angling), and stop taking wild steelhead into hatcheries in Oregon, Washington and Idaho for broodstock, “as the actual abundance of wild, natural-origin steelhead may be too low to meet guidelines allowing take of wild broodstock.”


The Compact closed all salmonid fishing on the Columbia River from the mouth to the Oregon/Washington border for both commercial non-treaty gillnetters and recreational anglers Sept. 12, 2018, but it had closed steelhead fishing on the river earlier on Aug. 27 due to a lower than anticipated run of fish.


In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced this week that steelhead fishing on the Umatilla River will close Oct. 15 through April 30, 2019 to protect wild steelhead and the agency reduced the bag limit for fall chinook and coho salmon on the river Oct. 15 through Nov. 30.


ODFW also announced it was closing the Walla Walla River to steelhead fishing Dec. 1 through April 30, 2019


Estimated returns for both the Umatilla and Walla Walla rivers are expected to be near historic lows, based on returns over Bonneville Dam. The steelhead closure and reduction in the fall chinook and coho bag limits are needed to ensure enough fish are available for hatchery broodstock escapement to Threemile Dam, ODFW said in a news release.


Regulation information for the Northeast Zone is at


Through Sept. 24, some 83,136 A- and B-run steelhead including 26,693 unclipped fish had passed Bonneville Dam. Unclipped fish include both wild and unclipped hatchery fish. TAC’s update to the total expected run of A- and B-run steelhead is 92,800 fish at Bonneville Dam. Of those, 64,500 are clipped hatchery origin fish and 28,300 are unclipped.


Of the total 69,500 A-run fish expected, 48,900 are hatchery, with 2,900 of those unclipped hatchery fish. Some 20,600 of the A-run are wild. Of the total 23,300 B-run fish, some 20,700 are hatchery, of which 2,200 are unclipped hatchery fish. The wild component totals are just 2,600.


Also see:


-- CBB, September 14, 2018, “Salmonid Fishing Closed On The Columbia River; 2018 A Bad Year For Salmon Returns,”


--CBB, August 17, 2018,”WDFW Restricts Fisheries On Columbia River, Two Tributaries To Support Steelhead Run,”


-- CBB, Aug. 10, 2018, “Hot Water Temperatures Prompt Oregon/Washington To Close Deschutes, Yakima River Mouths To Fishing,”


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