Environmentalists threaten to stop Idaho steelhead fishing

River communities react to potential revenue loss
Posted at 5:32 PM, Oct 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-31 19:32:57-04

For more than thirty years Kerry Brennan has been taking people down the Salmon River near Riggins to catch salmon and steelhead. So when environmentalists filed an intent to sue Idaho to stop steelhead fishing, he became concerned.

"It'd be tough for Riggins," said Brennan.  "It'd be tough for Idaho. I think they're targeting the wrong people. The sportsmen being allowed to use the resource are a big reason the resource is still here."

Brennan's long-time business partner Roy Akins is a Riggins City Councilman who also guides anglers hoping to catch big fish returning to Idaho from the ocean. He and others who rely on the Salmon River for a living say they were caught off guard when groups they are used to working with suddenly threatened to take away anglers' right to fish for steelhead in Idaho.

"It was upsetting to us when we first heard about it because we hate to see our ranks divided," said Akins. "We'd like to all work together for the same goal of restoring wild steelhead and wild salmon back to Idaho in large enough numbers that they are sustained, and we know they're going to be here forever and for future generations."

"This should be extremely scary for all of these folks, not because of a sixty day notice, but because our numbers of returning fish are so low," said Kevin Lewis, Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United, the group filing the intent to sue. He says the move was not intended to target anglers, but to force Idaho Fish and Game to update an expired plan for recovery of Idaho's wild steelhead which are protected under the endangered species act.

"The numbers of Idaho salmon and steelhead have plummeted over the past three years and unfortunately our governor is taking money from the federal government to not talk about this issue and to declare that the fish are fine."

The state of Idaho has extended an agreement with the federal government under the Columbia Fish Accords, in which Idaho agrees not to advocate for removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River. The Bonneville Power Administration gave states and tribes who signed the accords  900 million dollars. There is broad agreement among fish advocates that breaching the dams is the best way to bring Idaho steelhead and salmon back from the brink of extinction.

Kerry Brennan agrees that the hydro-system is the main problem, and he hopes environmentalists will continue to work with river communities to find solutions.

 "And that's the thing we need to focus on. That's the problem with our numbers. And to target the fishermen on the Salmon River particularly is not the answer I do not believe."

We made several attempts to contact managers at Idaho Fish and Game, but none of our calls were returned.