Extremists Threaten Idaho Steelhead Fishery
By Tyler Comeau
In early December, the Idaho Fish & Game Commission reversed their previous decision to close steelhead fishing statewide. The action was taken following an agreement between the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG), a local coalition called the Idaho River Community Alliance (IRCA), and five groups that threatened to sue Idaho officials over the lack of federal authorization for steelhead fishing in the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater river systems. The agreement will result in two new closed sections of river until NOAA issues the permits for the steelhead fishery, or at the traditional end of the season on March 15, 2019.
Anglers and outfitters affiliated with the IRCA also agreed to take some voluntary measures until the NOAA permit is issued, including keeping wild fish in the water, along with forgoing the use of bait and treble hooks. IDFG officials have been keen to point out that these restrictions that the IRCA members agreed to are strictly voluntary, and are not legally enforced regulations.
Concerned anglers and community members raised public awareness of the impacts that a closed season would have on their communities, while correctly pointing out that downstream impacts, including gillnetting and predation by pinnipeds, have a far greater impact on wild steelhead than their mark-selective sport fisheries.
If the full closure had occurred, recreational anglers and rural communities like Orofino and Riggins were going to suffer due to another cynical lawsuit from extremist anti-hatchery organizations including the Wild Fish Conservancy. It is important to remember that the pending lawsuit had nothing to do with conservation concerns, but instead these organizations capitalized on the backlogged permit approval process at NOAA Fisheries.
Several organizations, including CCA Washington led by their members in Idaho, initiated an advocacy campaign to engage anglers and ask them to encourage NOAA to expedite the FMEP review and permitting process. According to CCA, approximately 1,000 messages were sent in their email campaign alone, and thousands more were likely sent by other concerned citizens and organizations. NOAA Fisheries was reportedly on schedule to issue the permit for Idaho sport steelhead fisheries prior to the end of the season, though delays due to the federal government shut down that began in late December has that timeline in doubt.