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Early steelhead

Ron Neilson makes a cast into the lower Clearwater River in his quest to land July steelhead.

LEWISTON (AP) — One group has pulled out of a coalition of conservation organizations that threatened to sue the state of Idaho over its suspension of the steelhead fishing season.

Kevin Lewis, director of Boise-based Idaho Rivers United, said the threatened lawsuit accomplished the group’s goals by pushing the federal government to begin work on a stalled permit to allow Idaho to hold a steelhead season without violating the Endangered Species Act, the Lewiston Morning Tribune reported.

He said he was surprised when the season was closed and is critical of the move.

“Their decision hurt riverside towns, and many people we care about — people who are on a larger team to restore salmon and steelhead in Idaho,” he said.

Lewis added “We have many friends in those communities — anglers, fishing guides, citizens and business owners, who have worked with us for many years on salmon and steelhead recovery. It is unfair to punish rural communities that depend on fishery-based economies.”

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission voted to close the season starting Saturday after it was unable to reach a negotiated settlement with the groups that also include the Conservation Angler, Wild Fish Conservancy, Friends of the Clearwater, Snake River Waterkeeper, Wild Salmon Rivers and the Wild Fish Conservancy.

The groups last month threatened to sue the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing steelhead fishing without a federal permit.

A federal permit, issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is required for steelhead fishing because the species is considered threatened.

Idaho Fish and Game’s permit for steelhead fishing expired in 2011. The agency applied for a new permit, but it has not been issued over the last seven years, according to a Fish and Game news release.

Idaho Fish and Game representatives have been meeting with businesses to discuss details of the suspension and what the future will hold, according to several business owners.

It is unclear if Idaho Rivers United’s exit will have any impact on the pending closure.

Ed Schriever, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the department appreciates that the group reversed course, but that doesn’t mean the threat of litigation has gone away.

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