Idaho businesses that rely on steelhead fishing are bracing for the financial impact of the fishing season's suspension.
Fishing outfitters and guides along the Salmon River already are seeing spring booking cancellations due to the unknown status of spring steelhead season, the Post Register reported.
"It's going to hurt the whole community, all of the communities along the Salmon River and the Clearwater," said Jess Baugh, owner of Mountain River Outfitters, a family-owned fishing outfitter based in Riggins.
Steelhead fishing on the Salmon River was cut short this year after a threat of a lawsuit from conservation groups forced the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to indefinitely suspend the season.
A group of six wildlife conservation groups — The Conservation Angler, Wild Fish Conservancy, Snake River Waterkeeper, Friends of the Clearwater, Wild Salmon Rivers and Idaho Rivers United — 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, or NOAA, 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.
While outfitters and anglers are frustrated by the impact the suspension will have on finances or on their personal fishing enjoyment, many of them said they also want what's best for Idaho's wild steelhead population, which has steadily declined in recent years.
"Whatever I can do to help the steelhead population return to this area, I'm all for it," said Chip Berry, a sales clerk at 93 Outdoor Sports in Salmon.
Fish and Game officials are confident that NOAA will issue Idaho a steelhead fishing permit, but they don't know when.
"We're very comfortable and confident that the permit is coming and it will keep our steelhead fishery, as we know it in Idaho, intact," said Ed Schriever, Fish and Game's deputy director of operations, at a Nov. 20 town hall meeting in Riggins.