Fishing outfitters, business owners and community members from two Idaho towns have come together to insert themselves into negotiations or maneuverings that could stop the pending closure of the state’s steelhead fishing season or lead to an earlier reopening.
The group on Thursday collectively created the Idaho River Community River Alliance, elected board members and hired attorney Bill Mauk of the Boise law firm Mauk and Miller.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is closing Idaho’s steelhead season starting Dec. 8 to stave off a threatened lawsuit from six conservation organizations. The suspended season is expected to harm the economies of the two small towns — Riggins and White Bird — that depend on income from steelhead anglers in the late winter and spring.
The conservation groups, which include Idaho Rivers United, Friends of the Clearwater, the Conservation Angler, Snake River Waterkeeper, Wild Salmon Rivers and the Wild Fish Conservancy, threatened to sue state officials if they didn’t close the steelhead season or adopt fishing regulations designed to protect wild steelhead listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The groups believe this year’s return of wild steelhead is so meager that fishing should be closed or fishing methods altered to avoid any incidental mortality to protected fish that are caught and released.
Roy Akin, owner of Rapid River Outfitters and a Riggins city councilman, is the chairman of the new group, and Riggins outfitter Rich Friend is co-chairman.
“Bill (Mauk) is going to help us with any negotiation to start with — with NOAA and Fish and Game and the six groups — so we can negotiate with them and open a line of communication to hopefully find a timely resolve,” Akin said.
Akin said the organization can give fishing communities a voice not only in the current controversy over the pending steelhead closure but in any future issues that could affect fishing for salmon and steelhead.
“We definitely discussed how this had to happen in order to bring all of us together as outfitters and sportsmen to have a voice and a say in who and how determines when and where we fish.”