IDAHO — The steelhead season on the Snake, Clearwater, and Salmon rivers open to anglers on Friday, Sept. 3. But, with it being the lowest return of steelhead Idaho Fish and Game has seen in years they reduced bag limits to one fish per day.
“We typically expect a steelhead run daily count at Bonneville Dam to be over about 3,500 steelheads in a single day," Lance Hebdon, Idaho Fish and Game Fisheries bureau chief, said during the Commission meeting. "Last year's peak was under 2,500 and this year's peak has been under 1,600."
The return is the sixth-worst in history since 1980. By now, IDFG says they expect over 70% of the steelhead returning to be over the Bonneville Dam by now, but that hasn't happened.
"The fish showing up now at Bonneville have a lot of 'A run' fish in them, so we are unprecedentedly late. So in this world, they are either late or not showing up," Ed Schriever, Idaho Fish and Game Director said during the meeting. "As of a week ago we were in they are not showing up mode and a week ago we were preparing staff recommendations, that we would not have been able to hit broodstock needs."
IDFG says within the past week, steelhead return numbers have started to increase.
"We have seen a little bit of encouragement at Bonneville, and those 'A run' fish showing up later than we have ever seen them show up before," Schriever said. "That's giving us a high degree of confidence that the hatchery run will, in fact, exceed broodstock needs even with providing a fishery."
IDFG sets a threshold number of steelhead that needs to be met in order to meet broodstock, and even with the low run, they are still tracking to be over that number.
"We have high confidence that we have enough fish returning to meet the broodstock needs for the hatcheries and to provide harvest fisheries," Hebdon said.
Because of this, IDFG has reduced the limit of steelhead anglers can catch on the Snake, Salmon, and Clearwater rivers to one fish per day.
"With the expectation that lots of people don’t show up when the run is small, so we feel very confident in that with the low run escapement and a bag limit of one fish that participation rates will be low and we will meet broodstock," Schriever said. "And the conservation aspects of what Idaho has put on its steelhead for 30 years will continue to adequately manage the risk to wild fish while balancing the opportunity for the public to participate."
Emergency closures of the season are still possible if IDFG does not meet broodstock collection, or anglers start to have an impact on wild stocks.
The steelhead season on the Salmon, Clearwater, and Snake rivers runs from Sep. 3 through Dec. 31.
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