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F&G considering opening steelhead harvest season
October 3, 2017
By Roger Phillips
IDFG Public Information Specialist

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on October 2 postponed a decision on a staff proposal to reopen hatchery steelhead harvest with reduced bag limits in order to gather public comment. The commission plans to vote on October 13, and Fish and Game will take comment on the proposals through October 10.

Steelhead fishing is currently open, but for catch-and-release fishing only.

In August, Fish and Game closed the fall steelhead harvest because the run, which was already forecasted to be lower than average, was returning smaller and/or later than expected.

At the time, fish managers said they would closely monitor the run and add restrictions, or request the commission to restore harvest, if hatchery needs would be met and additional hatchery fish were available. Through September, steelhead numbers steadily improved.

“Steelhead returns have rebounded and are now tracking along with the preseason forecast with over 113,000 expected to cross Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager for Fish and Game. “Returns projected to Idaho based on known Idaho fish passing Bonneville Dam are now enough to provide a harvest of hatchery steelhead, but with smaller bag limits.”

The proposal is to reduce the traditional daily bag limit from three to two in the Snake and Salmon rivers, with additional restrictions in the Clearwater and lower Snake limiting harvest to two steelhead less than 28 inches. The size restriction protects the larger “B-run” steelhead that are still not abundant enough to provide harvest without risking overharvesting fish needed to replenish hatcheries.

Managers will continue to evaluate steelhead returns over Bonneville Dam and fish returning to Idaho.

Hebdon estimates about 22,000 hatchery steelhead above broodstock needs are destined for Idaho rivers. Most of those fish have already been counted at Bonneville Dam. The hatchery fish are produced as mitigation for lost fishing opportunity associated with federal and Idaho Power dams in the basin.

Managers also said wild fish, which cannot be harvested, will remain protected. While wild fish numbers are low this year, particularly the Clearwater River’s B-run fish, managers pointed out that Idaho had low wild returns in the past when there were abundant hatchery returns. Idaho's wild steelhead returns were as low or lower than this year as late as 2007-08. But wild returns quickly rebounded after river and ocean conditions improved.

“Idaho takes a conservative approach to managing wild steelhead” Hebdon said. “We don’t allow any harvest of wild steelhead. About 85 percent of the wild steelhead habitat in Idaho is closed to all steelhead fishing, so the only impact to wild steelhead is associated with catch-and-release handling incidental to both catch-and-release and harvest fisheries targeting hatchery fish.

“Harvesting hatchery fish and releasing wild fish has proven to be an effective conservation tool," Hebdon added. "We will continue to monitor wild steelhead populations in Idaho and are confident that the implementation of Idaho’s steelhead sport fisheries are not a risk to the goal of rebuilding wild steelhead populations."

He noted that Idaho has had essentially the same steelhead fishing rules since the 1990s with occasional changes to account for smaller returns, like this year’s.

Here's the complete proposal for steelhead harvest and more detailed information.

Anglers can comment on the proposal via email or by phone to their Regional Fishery Manager:
  * Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager,, (208) 799-5010
  * Greg Schoby, Salmon Region Fishery Manager,, (208) 756-2271
  * Dale Allen, Southwest Region (McCall) Fishery Manager,, (208) 634-8137
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