Harvest season for adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead opened Sunday, Oct. 15 on the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers.
The Fish and Game Commission on Friday, Oct. 13 approved opening the harvest season, but reduced the traditional daily bag limit from three to two adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead in the Snake and Salmon rivers, with additional restrictions in the Clearwater and lower Snake rivers limiting harvest to hatchery steelhead less than 28 inches.
The two-fish daily bag limit also applies to all other rivers open for steelhead fishing, including the South Fork of the Clearwater and Little Salmon rivers.
The size restriction on the lower Snake and Clearwater rivers protects the larger “B-run” steelhead from overharvest and ensures enough will return to replenish hatcheries.
All other 2017 steelhead rules still apply. Here is the steelhead rules booklet (which includes the outdated bag limits).
Fish and Game in August halted the harvest season when steelhead were not arriving as expected, but fish counts during September increased, and the run is close to the preseason forecast. Fisheries managers expect about 52,252 steelhead, including 37,779 hatchery steelhead and 14,810 wild, will cross Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles downstream from Lewiston. Fisheries managers estimate about 22,000 of those hatchery fish will be available for harvest.
“The harvest closure in August was implemented when steelhead returns appeared insufficient to meet broodstock needs,” said Lance Hebdon, F&G’s anadromous fish manager. “But that is no longer the issue now that we understand this run was later than normal.”
Wild steelhead returns are expected to be the lowest since 2008, but fisheries managers are confident the rules in place will protect wild fish.
Many anglers expressed concerns about the effects of a harvest season on wild fish, although all wild fish must be released unharmed. Idaho has maintained the current rules for harvest of hatchery fish while mandating the release of wild fish since the 1980s.
Incidental wild steelhead mortality caused by catch-and-release fishing is minimal and “not considered to be a major limiting factor” in wild steelhead recovery. Previous years with low wild returns have shown steelhead can bounce back within a couple years.
Fish managers also pointed out the purpose of adult hatchery steelhead is to replenish hatcheries and provide harvest for sport anglers. There is no conservation benefit to wild steelhead by allowing excess hatchery steelhead to go unharvested, nor does it improve future hatchery returns.
Commissioners originally planned to vote on opening the harvest season on Oct. 2, but postponed that decision to take public comment.
Fish and Game polled 19,919 resident steelhead permit holders via email asking their opinions about opening the harvest season. Out of 345 responses, 55 percent supported the proposal and 39 percent opposed.
During public comment, the department also received another 776 comments, with 54 percent opposing opening harvest and 44 percent in favor.
With the poll and the comments combined, 594 of respondents opposed opening harvest and 582 were in favor of it. However, many in opposition said they opposed opening harvest because they wanted additional protection for wild steelhead.