By Zach Widner, Northwest States Senior Manager
On December 7, the Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) Commission announced that the state’s steelhead season will remain open, after initially voting on November 14 to close the spring season. The initial closure had been announced after a number of environmental organizations threatened to sue the state, alleging that Idaho is in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by continuing to operate its steelhead season without a federal permit.
The agreement includes limited closures in two areas and some additional voluntary measures.
IDFG submitted its plan for a hatchery steelhead Fishery Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) in 2010, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has yet to process the state’s application. Issuance of the permit will allow IDFG to fully implement and operate its harvest steelhead season for hatchery steelhead, with some incidental take of wild Snake River steelhead. Retention of wild Snake River steelhead is not allowed, as wild steelhead are an ESA-listed species.
As noted by IDFG, “Catch-and-release impacts to wild steelhead are minimal. The best-available science suggests that of every 100 wild steelhead that enter Idaho rivers, about three will die as a result of angler encounters. This is a low level of incidental-take mortality that does not jeopardize long-term recovery of wild steelhead populations.”
IDFG has been operating hatchery steelhead harvest seasons without the federal permit since 2010, with NOAA’s knowledge. The Department noted, “State and federal agency scientific reviews to date have found Idaho’s management of hatchery steelhead fisheries do not jeopardize wild steelhead populations.” The actual impacts to fish populations from angling are very small, relative to numerous other factors that present significant challenges to the health of wild steelhead populations, including habitat loss, conditions in the Pacific Ocean, and pollution.
On December 4, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted comments to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), urging NMFS to expeditiously review and approve the IDFG’s FMEP for adipose-fin-clipped, hatchery-origin Snake River steelhead, allowing IDFG to operate its spring steelhead season in the Snake River Basin.
NMFS is currently soliciting public comments on the state’s plan, and both IDFG and recreational anglers remain hopeful that approval of the plan will occur this winter, providing further assurance that future steelhead seasons will continue in the state. Steelhead fishing in Idaho – particularly in rural localities that rely on anglers and tourism to drive local economies – provides a significant economic impact, in addition to the substantial amount of funding for conservation that is generated through the sale of fishing licenses, steelhead tags, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?